Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays from Morocco!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas 
and a happy New Year!
Thank you all for your support and love, prayers and well wishes, and care packages and letters! 
2012 has been an amazing year for us.  We look forward to 2013, and we wish and hope for peace and equality at home and around the world.
Love, Arie & Kate

Monday, December 10, 2012

got goat?

A Warm and Cozy Meal:
Spicy Goat Stew & Winter Squash Gratin

We Peace Corps Volunteers who live in Morocco most likely spent at least one day (if not four days) celebrating the important Muslim holiday of l'Eid al Adha.  The main tradition of l'Eid is that each household or family sacrifices at least one goat or sheep; then everyone feasts for four days on all parts of the animal (including its internal organs, brain, and eyeballs).  Often a family will share some of its meat with those who are less fortunate.  Arie and I received two gifts of goat meat from neighbors and friends which we put in the freezer. This was about the time I began to fear that the bags of frozen meat would end up lost in the back of the freezer for a year.  I was determined to find a delicious way to utilize the meat.  I searched the web for ideas and came up with the Spicy Goat Stew recipe of my own based on what was available in our site and our kitchen.

In addition to this recipe is a delicious squash dish that can be served along side the stew.  Squash is my favorite winter vegetable, and this is my favorite way to prepare it.  I make it a few times each season.  The recipe comes from my favorite cookbook: Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison given to me nearly 15 years ago (when I was still a teenager who thought it was cool to be veggie) as a Christmas gift from my Aunt Bridget and her family.  This classic cookbook, with an encyclopedic perspective on all earthly foods, contains simple and delicious ways to prepare everything.  Even for non-vegetarians this book offers ways to prepare simple, healthy and tasty meals.

*Please note the length of time it takes both dishes to cook (up to 2 hours) - plan accordingly (if you are a PCV - you've got time; plus this will warm up your kitchen)!  Enjoy! 

Spicy Goat Stew - Serves 4
2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 pound goat meat, cut in 1″ cubes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
28 oz can of tomatoes or 5 peeled tomatoes; chopped (*see instructions below to make your own tomatoes)
Pinch saffron
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (or 1 cube of knorr with 2 cups of water) 

Spice Mixture
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon dried hot peppers (hang and dry your own and then grind them up)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 

sour cream (plain yogurt)
fresh chopped cilantro 

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the onion until soft and transparent, about 5 minutes.

Place the spices for the spice mixture in a medium bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly. Toss the goat in the mixture until well-coated. Add the goat and garlic to the pot with the onions; increase the heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until the goat is browned.

Stir the tomatoes, saffron and chicken stock into the pot with the spiced goat. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and continue cooking until the sauce has thickened and the goat becomes fork tender, about another half hour. At this point, the stew can be refrigerated and reheated later. Serve with plain yogurt and fresh cilantro. Yum!

*To make your own “canned” tomatoes – take 5 large ripe tomatoes and core them (cut out the center where they were connected to the vine) and cut an 'X' in their bottom (this will make them easier to peel). Have a boiling pot of water on the stove ready and bowl of ice cold water ready. Drop one or a few tomatoes in the boiling water and let sit for 60 seconds. Remove and place in cold water 60 seconds. Remove from cold water and peel off their skins. Cut into quarters and remove the juice and seeds. Place juice and seeds in a strainer to strain the juice. Keep the juice, toss the seeds, chop the quarters. The juice and the chopped tomatoes will (approximately) equal a 28 oz can.

Winter Squash Gratin - Serves 4
About 2 lbs (1 kilo) butternut squash (or any variety of yellow/orange squash)
5 garlic gloves, finely chopped
½ cup chopped (fresh) parsley (dry parsley can be used too)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons flour
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 325 F. and oil a shallow baking dish. Peel the squash and cut it into even-sized cubes, from ½ inch to 1 inch. Toss it with the garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Add the flour and toss again until the pieces are coated lightly, letting the excess fall to the bottom. Pile the squash into the dish and drizzle oil generously over the top. Bake, uncovered, until the squash is browned and tender when pierced with a knife, about 2 hours. When served, the individual pieces will collapse into a puree. (Credit: Deborah Madison, “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.”)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Recipes to Keep You Warm

December has arrived and the weather has turned cooler.  For us that means 70's and 80's when the sun is shining and wool sweater weather once the sun sets.  For other volunteers in Morocco (living in the north or up in the Atlas mountains) this means a cold, snowy winter without central heating.  Here are two recipes to keep you warm this winter: Vegan Carrot Bread (there is nothing like a warm oven to heat up the kitchen) and Root Vegetable Soup (if it weren't for the chicken Knorr, this soup would be vegan too).  Enjoy!

Vegan Carrot Bread

  • 1 cup carrot puree (steam carrots then puree in a food processor)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup soy milk (carrot juice or pineapple juice works well too)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened, your choice)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (if you have)
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (if you have)
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup oats (used for the topping)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease your pan of choice:
1 bundt (1 hour 15 minutes)
2 loaf (50 minutes)
6 mini loaf (45 minutes)

Mix wet ingredients in a large bowl, and mix dry ingredients in another bowl. Slowly add dry ingredients into large bowl with wet ingredients. Stir. Spoon batter into prepared pan(s), sprinkle with 1/2 cup of remaining oats, bake for the amount next to each pan above, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for about 15 minutes, then finish cooling on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Baked loaves can be wrapped then frozen for up to a few months. Just thaw at room temperature for a few hours before eating.
This is a quick bread - which means it is slightly sweet.  It is not quite like carrot cake and is best enjoyed warm with butter. 

 Root Vegetable Soup

Veggies of your choice:
  • 1 cup diced potato
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced turnip
  • 1 cup diced squash or pumpkin (if including, add with the chickpeas since it cooks faster)
  • 1 cup diced sweet potato

  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 2 cups of chickpeas cooked
  • Approx ¼ cup of Olive Oil
  • Salt, Pepper, Cumin to taste (about 1 tsp each)
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano to taste (about 1 TBS each) - ground if possible
  • 1 cube of Chicken Knorr
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Water
  • 3 TBS of flour
Heat olive oil in large pot and add onion, saute for about 5 min, then add garlic, veggies, and all spices. Cook, stirring, for about 5 min. Add water (enough to cover all veggies and 1 inch above veggie level) Knorr, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 min. Add cooked chickpeas (and squash/pumpkin), and simmer until veggies are tender. Remove 2 cups of liquid broth and add it to a small bowl. Add flour and whisk (this will thicken the soup when added). Put flour mixture and 2 cups of soup (with chunks of veggies) into a blender and puree. Add puree back into soup and stir. Enjoy. Usually serves about 6.

Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, and Bay Leaf
are very important additions!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Giving Thanks

It's November! I have noticed that on Facebook a lot of people are posting something that they are thankful for each day of the month.  This is an idea that I really like, so I am going to attempt to do so over the span of this month right here in this blog post.  Check back for updates!

November 1st - We are thankful for our local Souk!
We are thankful for our Souk, a farmers market that happens bi-weekly is our town, is our best opportunity to purchase fresh produce; there are no supermarkets in the desert. Our weekly meal planning revolves around Souk days.  We get really excited when there are: ripe avocados, fresh figs, sweet red peppers, turnips with a big bunch of greens on their tops, and fresh lettuce.  Since we are so remote, there is usually little variety. Nonetheless, we love to go and see what is fresh and in season!

 November 2nd - Couscous Friday!
It's FRIDAY! In Morocco this means couscous! Moroccans love to eat couscous on Fridays and on holidays.  We go and eat couscous with our host family every Friday that we are in site.  Couscous might be the most important and most delicious dish (in our opinion) in Morocco. We are so thankful to have a time each week with our host family to share such a wonderful meal. Yum!

November 3rd - The Guitar!
We are thankful that our Dar Chebab, or local youth center, has multiple guitars. Arie has fixed them up and is starting to give lessons to a few boys in our community.  He practices the guitar himself for an hour or two each day.  He is getting really good, especially with the blues, and I enjoy listening to him (unless I am trying to take a nap).

November 4th - PCMOs 
(Peace Corps Medical Officers)!
The PCMOs in Morocco are a wonderful team of qualified doctors who advise and support us during the physical and mental ups and downs of our service.  We are thankful for their support!

“We must find time to stop and thank the 
people who make a difference in our lives.”
― John F. Kennedy

November 5th - Our Community!
Here is the desert we are surrounded by wonderful people.  Our Peace Corps Volunteer friends, our host family, our Moroccan friends, our Dar Chebab Mudir (youth center director), our neighbors, our favorite Hanut owners (shopkeepers), the post office workers, the women, the men, and the youth who are friendly and welcoming.  They all support us and the work we do. We are thankful that every time we return home from being out and about in the community we have smiles on our faces and laughter in our hearts.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; 
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust

 November 6th - Freedom, Equality, and the Privilege to VOTE!
Being in a foreign country and immersed in a foreign culture gives you a new perspective on your own home country and culture.  We realize that as Americans we are very fortunate, and so we are grateful to realize this so as not to take it for granted. Now get out there and take advantage of the great opportunity and VOTE!
November 7th - Our President and First Lady!
Four more years! What a wonderful, beautiful, amazing couple we have to lead our country - I am so proud and thankful. Onward and Forward President Obama! Watch Obama's Victory Speech HERE!

 November 8th - Our New Oven! 
Our wonderful host family had an extra oven that was just sitting in storage, so they lent it to us for the duration of our time in Akka.  Most Moroccan apartments do not come with appliances (like a refridgerator, oven, washing machine/dryer), so you have to buy your own.  We splurged on a nice fridge, but we had to save our money for an oven. Thankfully we can continue to save our money.  And thankfully it is big enough for a turkey, since we are hosting a Peace Corps Thanksgiving!

November 9th - Notes from the Universe!
I LOVE to get daily messaged in my inbox from The Universe.  They are little reminders that "your thoughts become things, choose the good ones." The Universe also sends messages the show you new perspectives about the magic of life, yourself, and others. This is the one I got today:
"So very much can happen in a lifetime, or even on a single day of any lifetime. Yet I can assure you that whatever has or will happen in yours, no matter what chasms you cross, heights you scale, or how many people you love and are loved by, when all is said and done and you take that final look over your shoulder, what will humble you the very most, will be that you got to be YOU."
Of all people,
    The Universe

A message like this reminds me to be grateful for the adventure I am on and to enjoy the ride! If you want to get a daily message from The Universe, click HERE.

November 10th - Fall Weather in Frankfurt!
 We are thankful to get away from the heat of the desert to spend a week in Germany.  Our natural habitat is one with 4 seasons.

 November 11th - LEGOS!
Both Arie and I loved Legos when we were kids - what a great activity! We are thankful that our parents knew that Legos were awesome!

November 12th - Salad!
It is not easy to find lettuce of any kind in the desert, let alone dried cranberries, walnuts, feta cheese and honey mustard dressing.  We are thankful for the opportunity to eat a big salad for dinner. Yum! What a treat!

November 13th - Birkenstocks!
Germany makes superior products, and Birkenstocks are superior shoes.  I am thankful to be able to afford them and to have a chance to purchase them and bring them back to Morocco.  Finding healthy, comfortable, and cute shoes in Morocco is not easy. 

November 14th - Starbucks!
In my opinion, finding good tasting coffee in Morocco and Germany is not easy.  So often it is just espresso (which can be good) or instant Nescafe.  Thankfully Starbucks exists in Germany (yes, I know there are 2 Starbucks in Casablanca, but when will I get there and do they have soy milk?).  All around the world you can count on good coffee from Starbucks.  Good coffee is catching on in Germany, and we managed to try some local coffee too, but if you must go corporate - Starbucks wins.

November 22nd - A Happy Thanksgiving!
Traditions allow us to express that which is important to us.  Traditions play a role in defining who we are as individuals, families, groups, and cultures. Traditions give us hope for the future - something to work towards or to look forward to.  Traditions provide comfort and structure and define periods of time.  Being in a foreign country with traditions that are new and different can be unsettling and can create a feeling of loss and loneliness.  I feel that making a point to maintain your own personal traditions can help with feelings of homesickness and sadness while being away from home.  This is why I am so grateful and thankful to have a great group of Peace Corps Volunteers to celebrate the tradition of Thanksgiving with.  We will be feasting on the classic Thanksgiving foods: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, pecan pie, and pumpkin a lot of other delicious foods.  The only thing missing will be our American friends and family, and some cool weather with leaves on the ground.  The Sahara desert will have to do.  Happy Thanksgiving!

November 23rd - Those Who Have Taught Us!
The turkey was delicious, the party was fun, and overall our Thanksgiving was a success.  We served a 30 pound turkey (it was the smallest one available) and hosted 20 Peace Corps Volunteers at our house - this was our first time ever hosting Thanksgiving, and it was a great success! Everyone brought delicious food to share, and the meal went off without a hitch (even though we ate 1 hour later than planned).  Arie and I have our elders to thank for this success: our grandmothers and grandfathers, our aunts and uncles, and our mothers and fathers. Those who hosted thanksgivings past and made the experience fun, delicious, and memorable have taught Arie and I how to pull it off on our own.  We watched and learned over the past 30 years of how a Thanksgiving day is done.  We absorbed the traditions and values of our families (games after dinner, candles on the table...), and now we can do it on our own.  Thank you!

 November 26th - Living in the Desert!
Now that the weather is cooler, our bikes are in working condition, and we have visitors to show around, we get the chance to explore the area we live in.  Wow - it is breathtakingly beautiful! We live on the edge of the mountains and the Sahara Desert in the largest palm oasis in Morocco. While we miss the four seasons of Minnesota, we are thankful to experience new terrain and a new climate.
November 30th - TGIF!
Wow! We just had our FIRST full week of work (the kind where you get up and go somewhere and have to plan and prepare)! It sure feels good to get to the weekend, and we are thankful for this.  Technically we work every day - we are representatives of the United States, and part of our job is to share our culture.  We do this by being present in our community and building positive relationships within our community - this work happens everyday.  This summer we planned and implemented two summer camps for youth, and after that we spent the fall traveling around the country to Peace Corps trainings and meetings, traveling north to visit the dentist, celebrating l'Eid, celebrating Thanksgiving, and taking a vacation to Germany.  After all that we are VERY ready to have a work schedule and routine.  And now finally this week we got that! We have been working at the Dar Chebab (youth center), Netti Neswi (women's center - Kate), and the Lycee (high school). Thank God it is Friday - it feels good to start a work routine that brings you to a weekend.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Product Review: Lalla Love

Lalla means Madame or Mylady in Moroccan Arabic, and when I stepped into the boutique Lalla: from Marrakech with love xxx I certainly felt like a Madame. I found myself surrounded by gorgeous handbags and accessories made by hand from the finest of leathers in the boldest of colors. A small boutique hidden on the second floor in the souks (markets) of the old medina (old city) of Marrakech, Lalla: from Marrakech with love xxx is an hidden treasure chest of many temptations.

Laetitia Trouillet, the designer and owner got her start at the Portobello Road Market in London, and as her bags grew in popularity and demand she took her business to Marrakech. Many of Laetitia's bags have a Moroccan flair to them: the cross body saddle bag, traditional Moroccan carpet bags, and makeup bags made from vintage Moroccan fabric. Each one is unique and lovely.

Every purse is one-of-a-kind and handmade by Laetitia and 3 others in her workshop in Marrakech. Large purses, coin purses, studded clutches – all made from the finest of leather and suede and all with fine details that will please a sharp eye. Hot pink piping, funky fabric lining, or a sparkly blue zipper pull make Lalla bags special. An important feature of Lalla bags is that the “leather doesn't smell” unlike the traditional leather Moroccan bags found throughout the souks of Marrakech and Fez. 

Mine! Leather clutch and African fabric tote.  The love is in the details.

The best and most exciting part about shopping at Lalla: from Marrakech with love xxx is that these bags are affordable; but only in Marrakech. Once Laetitia ships her bags off to exclusive, high-end retailers and boutiques in New York City, Paris and London, the prices will undoubtedly double or triple. So bring your wallet, and if you are a Peace Corps Volunteer bring your American money, because it is difficult to pass up soft, supple leather and modern style for under 100$. Lalla bags are the perfect Moroccan souvenir for Madames who look for quality, hand-craftsmanship, beauty, and affordability all wrapped up in such a lovely package!

Find Lalla in the Marrakech Medina:
Souk Cherifia; Sidi Abdelazziz
Dar El Bacha souk entrance

Good luck and happy shopping! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A toast - Happy 6 Months Friends (PCVs 2012-2014 Morocco)!

Time slowly runs and quickly walks. One day goes by and suddenly 6 months are past; now here we are reflecting on our past 6 months living in Morocco. Look at us – overcoming challenges, facing our fears, staying committed, enduring, leading, learning, growing, and simply being awesome.

I remember my second Sunday in country – I was lying next to a napping Arie. It was a cold and rainy March day and I had never felt so alone and sad, so unsure of my place in the world. All I wanted was the warmth of home and family...but that day passed.

I remember my second week in site – it was June and I was hot and sweaty, overwhelmed by real and true culture shock, and covered (head-to-toe) in bed-bug bites. I had never been so frustrated, angry, and distraught, so ready to throw in the towel and quit...but that day passed.

And here we are celebrating 6 months – a great accomplishment – at our IST (in-service training) in Marrakesh with our entire group (staj) of Peace Corps Volunteers. We began our journey together with wide eyes and big backpacks in Philadelphia, and we continue our journey now into our first year. Both Arie and I couldn't be more thrilled, more grateful, more certain to be here doing this work with this awesome group of new friends.
Peace Corps Volunteers (all of them everywhere) are amazing and wonderful people. I love how we are all so different yet so very able to come together in one room with open hearts and bigs smiles, cheering each other onward and forward toward all the challenges and successes that will make up our single Peace Corps experiences. While our individual service – what we achieve in our communities and how we impact the youth we serve – is a focal point, it will also be our relationships and friendships with each other that will be an integral part of our experience.

Cheers friends!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

They've Got Our Backs

It's so hot! It's late. I am tired, sweaty, and stuffed full of food. We just got home from a very large meal – a breaking of the fast during Ramadan – and as I try to change into something cooler our neighbors (we call them Host Family #3) begin banging on our door calling my name - “Kate!” Kate!” Their doorbell works and ours doesn't (thankfully), so when someone comes calling there is lots of knocking and yelling. “Bletti!” I shout – which means “wait” - and I quickly throw on a big mumu to cover up some skin. This only makes me sweat more. I enter the hall and there is my friend, Khadija, downstairs standing in our doorway with her little niece and nephew. We had just left their house where we had feasted with their family and have literally been home for less than 5 minutes. Did they follow us? Apparently they found a key. Is it ours? Did we drop it? Can we get into our apartment? They want to know – to be sure that we are safely home and not missing a key. “No, it's not ours, and yes, we got in fine. No, we don't know whose it is...thanks and bye!”

Wow, I think. They found a key and got dressed up to come out to see if it was ours. That is nice, and then I think about it a little more. You see, in America I don't think someone would do that in the same way. Maybe if one found a key they would call us on the phone. Maybe not immediately, because it is 11:30pm, but maybe in the morning. Would an American leave their home to chase after us to be certain we didn't lose a key that we might need to unlock our front door? Things are different here in Morocco – Moroccans are different. They will go out of their way at any time of the day to help you, to make sure you are safe, comfortable, happy. Moroccans make wonderful friends.

Our first and favorite Moroccan friend - Mr. El Ghali G.

Dedicated, loving, helpful, caring...when you've got a Moroccan for a friend this is what you get. Once you are “in” you are “in for life”. They love you like family and will always be on your side and watching your back.

The moment I began to understand the extent of a Moroccan friendship was when our town ran out of water for 24 hours. A pipe had been broken somewhere upstream, and as the hours passed people began to realize that water would have to come from somewhere else. The school near us had a reserve tank of water that it was sharing from, and the town provided the citizens with a giant water truck. As soon as this was known, our Moroccan friends knew to tell us. In the span of 5 minutes we got 2 phone calls and a knock on the door. They all wanted to inform us where the water was, and not only that they all offered to help us carry our buckets to and from our home. There was not a chance that we were going to go thirsty.

Moroccans friends and family are really good at making you feel loved. They deeply care for you and want to you know it – especially when you have to spend time apart.

When Arie and I went to spend one night in Fes – our first night away from our first host family in Azrou – we thought it would be a good idea to give them the phone number of the hotel we would be staying at – in case of an emergency. At 10am on Sunday morning there was a knock on our door – there was a phone call for us at the front desk. It was our host family. They wanted to say hi, tell us that they missed us, and also would be we be home in time for kaskrut (evening tea time)? We were surprised, a little confused, and very humored – we were only gone for 1 night, and why didn't they just call our cell phone? Needless to say we felt very loved, and we began to feel a strong love for our sweet Moroccan host family who missed us already.

Our host siblings in Akka - they missed us so much during Ramadan!

The first thing our Akka Host Family did when they returned home after being away for the whole month of Ramadan was call us – they wanted to see us. Immediately. Daba (now). While most of the time Moroccans are laid back and easy going, when they want something now, they mean NOW. In a indirect battle of culture control I made them wait 3 hours until I was done doing my thing and ready go. We went to their home and sat and talked for a short time. You see, they had missed us, and I think we missed them a little too...or maybe a lot...

We love our Moroccan friends and family – they are always there for us and are ready to go out of their way to help us and make sure that we are happy and comfortable. It is their love and support that keeps us here, working hard. It is their love and support that reminds us that Morocco is our home now too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Make Yourself Some Almond Milk

Milk alternatives in Morocco are scarce and expensive.  I like to have a milk alternative around for various reasons – cereal, mac and cheese, fruit smoothies...  I have discovered that the best DIY option is almond milk, because raw almonds are easy to find in Morocco.   Many Hanuts sell raw almonds, in fact the Hanut directly below our apartment has them – how convenient! Here is my recipe and method. Bear in mind that measurements are approximate.

1 cup of raw almonds
4 cups of water
6 soft dates – pitted
1 tablespoon of honey
a pinch or two of salt

*the dates and honey are the natural sweeteners. They are optional, and you can choose to add less or more or one or the other or none
*add more or less water to achieve your personal desired consistency
*homemade almond milk can turn sour fast, so if you do not think you will consume 4 cups in 1-3 days, you may want to cut the recipe in half

Soak almonds for a few hours or overnight
Boil some water, remove it from the heat and add the almonds
Let the almonds sit for a few minutes and then strain
Once the almonds are cool begin to peel them – they should slide easily out of their skins
In a blender or food processor grind the peeled almonds into small pieces – my blender has a small spice grinder attachment, so I grind them in this in small batches
Chop or grind the dates into small chunks
In a blender or food processor combine almond pieces, date chunks, honey, salt, and water and pulse and blend for a few minutes until everything is creamy, white, and milky – yummy!
Using a fine strainer, strain the milk into a container

Voila! You now have made yourself some almond milk!

*if you want, simmer the milk on the stovetop before refrigerating (I am not a scientist, so I think that this may kill some germs - if any exist - and help keep the milk longer?)

*before you use the milk, be sure to stir it since some of the fine almond pulp that made it through the strainer tends to settle

What to do with the leftover almond pulp?
As a Peace Corps volunteer, one motto I have - especially in the kitchen - is "waste not, want not". You will have some almond pulp left over in your strainer.  What can you use it for? I like to add it to fruit and yogurt smoothies or to my barley grit cereal; I have also made cookies with it. Be sure to store it in an airtight container in either the fridge or freezer. Here are some websites with info on almond pulp and with many ideas and recipes for how to make use of it:
3 Creative Uses For Almond Pulp
Easy Almond Pulp Cookies
Almond Pulp Freezer Fudge
More Almond Pulp Recipes

Have fun and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Product Review: Argan Oil

I LOVE Argan Oil! I discovered this magical oil last year, 6 months before arriving in Morocco, and it has become my favorite and most essential beauty product. Its popularity in the US is growing – have you noticed it on the shelves of your beauty and health care product aisle?

I was excited to learn that I would be serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the dry hot desert of Morocco – land of the Argan tree and home to many small cooperatives run by women that harvest and process this magical oil. Argan oil in the southern/Anti-Atlas region of Morocco is abundant and inexpensive. I will be stocking up and sending some home as gifts!

My Argan oil collection...LOVE...

Below are my favorite uses of Argan oil and some of my favorite Argan products
(small sizes and approximate prices listed):
The first time I came across Argan oil was at Sephora. I was in dire need of something that could help the dry skin of my t-zone. Heavy moisturize and mild soap were not working. The sales associate suggested Argan oil, and to my surprise I learned that it was made exclusively in Morocco – the country I would soon be living in. I began to directly apply a few drops of oil, and it immediately began working on my dry, scaly skin. Within a few days my dry patches were gone and my skin was soft and supple.

The wonderful thing about Argan oil is that it mimics your skin's own natural oil, and more importantly it does not feel heavy or greasy on your face. It is also helps to heal blemishes; just apply a drop or two of Argan oil until the area is healed. When there are no areas of my face that need special attention I simply mix a drop or two with my daily (SPF15) and nightly moisturizer for an added healthy boost of Argan oil love.

The Sephora products I purchased were Josie Maran brand – check out her website here. The Argan oil comes in a small glass bottle with a eye dropper for a lid - an eyedropper is the best tool for application. I also love the Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF40. I carry this small bottle in my purse for days when my face needs a little extra sunscreen. I also use it specially on my tattoo when it is exposed to the sun.

15 ml/.5 fl oz Josie Maran Argan Oil – found at Sephora - in stores and online (14.00$)
15 mn/.5 fl oz Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF40 – found at Sephora - in stores and online (14.00$)

Argan oil is great for hair; it is the only product I use after a wash. Just massage a dime or nicke sized amount of Argan oil into damp hair with a special focus on the ends. It absorbs like your body's natural oil and makes hair soft and shiny.

I purchased Moroccan Oil brand in the US – check out their website here. It smells wonderful, but is not 100% Argan oil. Nonetheless, it is very nice in the hair!

25 ml/.85 fl oz Moroccan Oil – found in fine salons (15.00$)

After shaving (any area including armpits!) or exfoliating add some Argan oil to your body lotion and generously slather it on. I use a more affordable brand of Argan oil for my body that I found at my local natural food co-op. Brand names are more expensive, and I highly recommend using Aura Cacia for hair, face, and body.

30 ml/1 fl oz Aura Cacia Argan Oil – found at your natural food co-op (15.00$)

Argan oil is a delicious alternative to olive oil. I satuee veggies in it and add it to salads. You can also do as the Moroccans do: dip fresh baked bread in Argan oil or drizzle it over pasta or cous cous. Yum. I am not sure if you can find Argan oil for cooking in the US, and it is bound to be expensive. In Morocco is is relatively expensive, but when you do the math it comes out to be affordable in dollars: 100 ml/3.4 fl oz Argan oil for cooking – 50dHs (6.25$)

Affordable Argan products purchased in Morocco.
Argan oil purchased in Morocco is much more affordable than in the US. I purchased a spray bottle of oil and some soap from a local cooperative in the Tata region of Morocco (where I work and live). Compare the costs:
40 ml/1.36 fl oz Argan Oil spray – 30dHs (3.75$)
Argan Oil soap – 20dHs (2.50$)

Small local Argan oil cooperatives, which usually employ and are managed by women,
produce wonderful and affordable Argan products that are sold regionally and internationally.
Some Argan Oil resources:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Home Sweet Home Morocco المغرب

  Hello from Akka, Morocco!

Akka is a small, hot, dry desert town at the base of the Anit-Atlas Mountains.  Surrounding Akka are small Berber villages and the largest palmerie/oasis in Morocco.  There are lizards, scorpions, camels, tree-climbing goats, wild dogs, wild cats, roosters, donkeys, sheep, and wild rabbits.  Two days a week we buy our fresh produce from the local farmer's market in town.  The eggs are always fresh, and we can watch a chicken get its head cut off before we take it home to eat. We like it here.
 We visited the palmerie/oasis one day with our host family for a picnic. It was like going to the beach, but there was no ocean.  Sad.
No sandwiches for lunch on our trip to the oasis - it's hot tagine cooked on site!

We have been in Morocco for 3 months - wow! 23 months to go...only. Some things we have observed about Morocco, the people, and the culture (bear in mind these general observations, NOT absolute truths - which is why we say "some" or "most"):

Some Moroccans do not wear seat-belts - in all cars we have ridden in they are not accessible for various reasons.

Some Moroccans rarely if at all brush their teeth.  Toothaches, lack of teeth, and swollen gums are common in adults.

Most Moroccans LOVE sugar and carbs.  White bread and sweet (and I mean syrupy sweet) Moroccan mint tea are daily staples for many Moroccans.  Most Moroccans drink tea like many Americans drink coffee.  Bread is the main food for breakfast and snack, and it is the primary eating utensil for lunch and dinner.  Cous cous, white rice, and white pasta are also eaten on a regular basis. Good luck trying to find brown rice or whole wheat bread.  Sugar in tea, sugar in coffee, sugar in juice, sugar on vegetables, sugar on fruit...

Since most meals are eaten from a communal dish, it is custom not to talk much during the meal (see photo above).  If you talk during your meal, you may not get your share of food.  Most Moroccans eat only with their right hand.  This is because the left hand is considered dirty (as it is used for bathroom things).  Kate being a lefty sometimes makes the mistake of reaching for food with her left hand but is adjusting nonetheless.  Eating with a spoon in the left hand is OK though.

The word "inshallah" (God willing) is used for all future events - even for most definitely certain future events.  "See you tomorrow! Inshallah." See you tomorrow if God wills it.  Even though we are pretty certain that we will see you tomorrow, you just never know...It is a great word to use in place of "maybe" or "no" too.  Our host family: "Would you like to come to dinner?" (which means dinner at late!).  We say: "Inshallah"  - which is polite for "no thanks".  It is also a great way to put off making a decision until the last minute too.

In regards to events and gatherings - usually there is very little planning ahead and there is a mad rush at the end.  There is usually no strict schedule and things rarely begin on time.

In business people come and go as needed and there are rarely posted "hours".  Even the post office, the only place we have seen with posted hours, oftentimes closes before the posted time. 

Cell phone interruptions are perfectly acceptable in most all situations.

There is no such thing as a line or a queue and the idea of "first come first serve" does not really exist.  At the post office, a bank, a store, or a market you just walk up to the counter and if you stand back a little waiting for the customer ahead of you someone else may walk up in front of you. 

Some Moroccans like to blame natural causes rather than take responsibility for illness/sickness.  A day trip with our host family ended in food poisoning for Kate and heat exhaustion for our host mom's sister. The bad water in the city we visited was to blame. Bed bug bites at our host family's house? It was the humid air in Agadir - bad for circulation.  Some Moroccans like to blame blowing air and cold for illness/sickness too.  Even when it is 100 degrees many Moroccans will not want the windows rolled down in a taxi for fear of getting sick.

These aspects of the culture have been the most interesting, surprising, and the more challenging for us to adjust to.  But now at least we have our own home where we can prepare our own meals with a little less sugar. Below are some photos of our apartment in Akka.
Home sweet home!
Laundry on the roof - it dries in no time!
Kitchen - stove and blender.
Our fancy fridge and laundry buckets.
Our living room - the floor mats also serve as our beds.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Welcome to the Desert

The journey is long and hot; our bags are heavy and we stink.
The bus is full and wobbles with every bump and turn.
Up through the desert mountains a winding road like a roller coaster
moves us forward towards a place we have never known.

Camels, tan, brown, black, one hump, two, and a baby.
Goats enjoying an argan nut snack, one is up in a tree.
These are the tree climbing kind of goat.

2 women, 1 man stand in the road as the bus driver stomps on the breaks.
They get on.
2 claps will stop the bus; you can get off anywhere.

We are alone on the road in the desolate desert.
What if the bus breaks down?
Do we have enough water?
Just imagine, but we arrive with water to spare.

This is Morocco.
We are home.

We sleep under the stars in a concrete courtyard.
In a metal crib with a cardboard mattress sleeps Adam.
On the ground sleep mother, father, sister, brother.
We lay on a bed, because Moroccans are welcoming and generous.

Behind a wooden door are 3 sheep and 1 goat.
Above us the north star and the big dipper.
Cats wander in under the front door to sniff for scraps.
A radio in the distance sings a song in minor key while a donkey brays.

The desert breeze ruffles our sheet.
This is Morocco.
We are home.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

8 Weeks in Morocco!

Hello Friends and Family!

We can hardly beleive that we have been in Morocco for 8 weeks! One week from now we will be saying farewell to our wonderful host family in Azrou and heading to Rabat to prepare to be sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers! We have been very busy studying language and culture and preparing for our work as youth development volunteers. 

The past two months of training have been exhilarating - full of challenges, learning, and most importantly laughter (the kind where tears roll down your eyes and you almost pee your pants).  Below is a graph to exemplify some of Kate's adjustment observations.  While the ups and downs look extreme overall our ability to cope and adjust has been easy and comfortable.  Although, once we leave Azrou and get to our final site a whole new adjustment cycle will begin.  Flexibility, a positive attitude, and perseverance are the keystones of a positive and successful Peace Corps experience!

We LOVE the food in Morocco - it is AMAZING. 

Below is a photo of a very special dish called Bastilla.  It is a giant pastry pocket made of filo dough, and wrapped inside is chicken (this one contains one and a half chickens), spices (like cinnamon, saffron, coriander...), onions (maybe 10?), and a bunch of parsley.  That is the first layer of the Bastilla.  The second layer is almonds, eggs, and sugar.  That is all wrapped up and baked in the oven.  The top is sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  Everyone sits around the big Bastilla and breaks it up and eats it with their fingers. YUM - 7 of us took this one out for lunch one day. 

Some other foods we LOVE:

Zmita - which contains roasted and ground up: peanuts, almonds, soybeans, corn, flax seeds, sesame seeds.  Also flour, sugar, oil, and fennel seed.  Every thing is ground to a powder and mixed together.  Depending on the batch you either eat it with a spoon or with your fingers.  We get some for breakfast every morning.

Melawi - this is like flat tortilla/crepe bread, but better than both.  You can put honey or jam on it, or just eat it plain.

Rfisa - this is a big dish that consits of pieces of Melawi covered with pieces of chicken, lentils and gravy.  For some more info on Rfisa and a recipe click HERE

Shpekiya - is sinful. It is some sort of fried pastry the is SOAKED in honey and oil.  Mmmmm...

Beef and prune tagine - imagine slow cooked beef in a rich gravy with big warm prunes on top. 

We visited Fes one weekend.  We spent most of our time wandering around the narrow streets of the old medina (medina = city).  Below is a photo of one of the main gates into the old medina.

Below is a photo of Arie and our LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator) Elghali as we navigated the maze of small streets with little doors into the homes of Moroccans.
While in Fes we ate lunch at Cafe Clock - check out their website HERE.  This cafe offers vegetarian and vegan food (along with camel burgers), as well as cooking classes and yoga classes.  The cafe has multiple floors and a rooftop terrace.  It would be a great place to hang out and use some wifi while sipping coffee and snacking on some hummus and tabbouleh.  Below is a photo of Arie and Kate on the rooftop of the cafe.

Yesterday we led a English/Yoga session at the Dar Chebab (Dar = house, Chebab = youth, therefore a Dar Chebab is a community youth center).  Over a hundred youth showed up, and Arie had no problem getting them all to do some mountain, tree, and eagle poses!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hello Azrou!

We are very fortunate to have such an amazing host family! They are loving, kind, generous, caring, funny, patient and helpful. Hassan is the father and he is an administrator at a hospital. Fatima is the mother and she stays at home to cook (there is a part-time servant to help with chores), but also works at a little clothing boutique and also sells beauty products from home (a brand called Forever based in Scottsdale, AZ). Our host brothers are Yasin (15) and Mehdi (14). They are so sweet and also very respectful, polite, and well behaved. They love to play football/soccer and spend their free time studying, helping their mom, playing on the computer, and helping us learn Darija since they are studying English at school.

One of the jokes in Peace Corps Morocco is that this is really the “Posh Corps” - meaning that we have more of the comforts of home than many other volunteers around the world – although not ALL of the comforts. Currently we have our own bedroom with a television with satellite cable. Our home not only has clean running water but also hot water (although it is not always abundant). We have two toilets – a western toilet that you sit on and a turk toilet (basically a hole that you squat over – we only use this if the western toilet is occupied). There are no homes that we know of in Morocco that have central heating or air – families have lots and lots of big warm blankets. When it gets chilly our family turns on a large space heater that requires butane gas – beware of the loose connection...

Our family has 3 washing machines – none function as well as most in the US though. Kate washes our clothes in a small portable machine (we want one!) and then rinses and wrings them by hand. The clothes then have to dry on the line (we have the option of indoor or outdoor). It can take 24 hours on a warm sunny day or over 3 days if the weather is damp and cold (the weather has been hot, cold, sunny, windy, rainy...).

We love the food that our family serves us! Every day we get fresh baked bread (made in-house by our family's servant – see photo) for breakfast (with olive oil, jam, peanut butter – provided by us, and cheese). Lunch is the big family meal of the day and is always hot and delicious. We usually get some form of veggies, meat, and bread in a tagine. Friday is a special day (prayer day) and most families, including ours, serves a giant tagine of cous cous and veggies (see photo). Yum! Dinner happens at 9 or 10 pm every night. It varies and tends to be small but usually hot (soup, fresh hard boiled eggs...mmmm...).
Fresh house-made bread (Hxubs) 
Friday's traditional and delicious meal: cous cous tangine 
(veggies, chickpeas, cous cous, and broth). 
Friday (jm3a - also the word for mosque) is prayer day.

Kate has now made a meal and a dessert for our family: spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread (our host brothers loved the bread!) and homemade brownies. The family loved the brownies – we know because they and other families are talking about how delicious they were (gossip is a important form of communication in Morocco). Arie and Kate made Sunday morning breakfast together: banana pancakes and scrambled eggs, a repeat will happen this week and we will serve 13 people (everyone wants to try our banana pancakes!). Initially our family and others (again, word travels fast) were very confused as to why we needed 14 eggs – 4 for a big batch of pancakes and 10 for scrambled eggs to feed 7 people.

Kate has learned how to make Moroccan mint tea (see photo), although she uses 2/3 less sugar than is traditionally used. Our favorite kitchen tool is a food processor that is also a scale. We will be getting one for our home when we settle in. We have seen it used to make flour and to grind nuts, and Kate used it to measure ingredients for her brownies and to make homemade peanut butter (a big hit with the family!).
Moroccan Mint Tea made by Kate

For exercise Arie and Kate have been going to Taebo Areobics with another Peace Corps Trainee, Sarah, and her host mom and host brother (her host mom is the sister of our host mom). We go 3 times a week. The class is at a Karate studio in town. It is high intensity cardio combined with boxing and karate moves with push ups and crunches to follow. We love it, even though we are not very good at it. Hopefully by the time we are finished with training in May we will be Taebo pros! We have also been taking advantage of the mountain climate by jogging, hiking, and climbing in the area.
Team Taebo! Are, Kate, and Sarah

What things do we miss the most?
Kate: high fiber cereal with soymilk/almond milk/coconut milk, a wide variety of clothes and shoes for various occasions and weather situations, heated yoga, high speed internet, and my bicycle!
Arie: Thai food, cold cuts, siracha hot sauce, and checkerboard pizza, high speed internet, and Noel.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nine Days in Rabat

We have arrived! And we are officially PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) Our first day here was a long one. Many of us did not sleep well or at all on the plane, so Wednesday seemed like the longest day of our life! As soon as we arrived we were given vaccines. Ouch! 4 so far: meningitis, Hep A (some got Hep B – we both already have that), rabies, and typhoid. There are still more to come for those that are a series vaccine. Our jet lag has been manageable, some afternoons are drowsy ones when we are sitting in hot rooms for training.

Our Peace Corps training has been extensive yet concise (we still have 2 months of training to go). We have been briefed on how to manage harassment (women especially), how to be safe (don't go out at night, no riding motorcycles...), how to travel (taxis, buses, trains, camel, donkey, bike), how to eat and drink (the water here usually is safe but doesn't taste very good), how to teach English, how to use our cell phones, and most importantly how to speak Arabic (Darija - Moroccan Arabic - which is a little different).

Our PCT group was originally 120 people, but by the time we arrived in Philadelphia we had shrunk to 112. We are 1 of approximately 12 married couples. We are also some of the few older volunteers - about 10% of the group is 30+. Most everyone is in their early to mid-twenties. Females out number the males approximately 3:1. All of us come from many different experiential backgrounds (there is no trend) and many U.S. states are represented. The states that represent most are California, Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota!, but there are only maybe 5-10 of us from each those states. Every region of the U.S. is represented very well. There are lots of interesting people to talk to and learn from.

Learning Arabic has been awesome, and we are really excited for this opportunity. Our focus has especially been on learning the script alphabet and how to read and write it (so fun to learn!). We are split up into groups of 6 students with 1 teacher, and we have lessons for about 4 hours a day, 6 days a week now and for the next 2 months. Along with that we will have immersion experience with our host families, individual time to study, and hands on learning experience in our Dar Shbab (youth/community center) and community.

On Thursday we got to meet the US Ambassador to Morocco and his wife – Sam and Sylvia Kaplan. You can refer back to a previous blog entry to learn more about them and listen to their MPR interview. They are from Minnesota. We and 3 other Minnesotan PCTs were photographed with the Ambassador and his wife, and Peace Corps will be sending out press releases to Minnesota news agencies. Keep an eye out in your local paper in case the article gets picked up.

The weather here in Rabat has been very nice. The sun is bright and strong, and there is a cool ocean breeze coming in from the Atlantic. The city itself is an interesting culture shock. There are some nice parts and some not so nice parts; we are not allowed to enter the un-safe parts of the city of course. The nice parts we have seen are well groomed and contain many embassies and diplomatic residents. The not so nice parts have streets that contain piles of garbage and litter (there is no recycling and very few public garbage cans). Sidewalks are crumbling; buildings and structures are crumbling. There are many, many street cats and some scraggly dogs. Beware of these animals – they may carry disease such a rabies – so no petting until the rabies vaccine series is completed. Beware also of cars, motorcycles, and buses. They drive fast and erratically and there is no policing. You hear a lot of honking and screeching out in the city.

The hotel is comfortable. The food they serve us is delicious – always a wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies, yummy meats (fish, goat, chicken), kebabs, spicy tangines (stewed veggies, meat, and spices). The strawberries they serve are spectacular – you can tell that they do not come from California. Our beds are nice, although the shower is quite the experience: low pressure and not a lot of hot water. We should consider ourselves lucky though to have a shower at all! There is 24 hour police surveillance at the hotel for our safety as we are 112 Americans in one location.

Sleeping to the sounds of Rabat has been interesting – early on our second morning here we heard a car accident – screeching tires and a bang, hubcap rolling away. Every morning at 3am a German Shepard barks fiercely, and around 4am begins the city-wide call to prayer (and also at other times of the day, noon, 4pm, 7pm...).

On Sunday we did some sightseeing around Rabat. We walked to the Chellah Necropolis Roman ruins (see photos, wiki link: and over to the old Medina to check out the Kasbah (see photos - wiki link: and the Atlantic Ocean. On the walk home we stopped at a grocery store and purchased some nuts, chocolate, peanut butter, and Tabasco sauce. Yumm yumm. Our cravings have not been too bad yet – we would like some cereal and some wine. Morocco actually has some vineyards, but we will have to wait to buy wine when we get to our work site in June. Alcohol free has been nice actually – maybe we will drop a few pounds? ;)

The espresso here is delicious – thick, dark, and rich, and it only costs approximately $1 (8 Dirham) a cup - Arie approves. The street food looks amazing (we hear the sheep heads are good), and since we've had our Hep A shot we will be experimenting soon. Kate has officially made her first purchase at the Suk, or market, and of course it was a pair of shoes (bright teal, soft-leather flats for 7$! - 60 Dirham - see photo). We have discovered a good 3 mile jogging route and have found space to do yoga. We also purchased the service of a laundrymen, and Kate did her “load” of delicates by hand in the sink.

This coming Thursday morning we depart from Rabat and make the journey to our host families. We are going to be placed in the city of Azrou in the Atlas mountains region with 10 other volunteers. This region is known for its natural beauty – waterfalls and caves - and monkeys. No camels yet, but monkeys will do. In Azrou we will continue our Arabic language training and begin our youth development training. We are anxious to get started!

We are so thrilled to be in Morocco and so far this experience has been an exhilarating roller coaster ride that will continue for the next 2 years, Inshallah. Bslama!