Monthly Archives: November 2011

How I Learned to Love My Oven

The chilly winter weather is finally turning the aspens and fig trees a glorious yellow, and their leaves are beaten off the branches by the seasonal cold rains,  which are hitting us more than they did last year. I could see my breath in my house last night – and with all of the world my refrigerator, I could finally buy 1/2 a kilo of real, co-op made butter in Tinjdad last week and not worry that it would melt all over my bag on the way up! As I’ve been using store-bought margarine or, occasionally, heavily salted butter made by neighbors, this is a glorious addition to my kitchen.

View from my roof this morning. Cloudy day!

The butter was purchased to be part of a pie crust – it was agreed that a pie crust would be ashamed to be made of margarine, and I wanted to make a practice pie or two before making them for a group at Thanksgiving. I also bought a kilo of pumpkin – I really wasn’t sure if it would cook down or not, and I needed two cups per pie.

Before I got around to making the pie, though, I got cold and hungry. I started searching online for Pumpkin Soup, but that always had some exotic ingredient in it (cream? who has that?), so I started searching for curries or black bean and pumpkin something-or-other. I was shocked when I was searching for recipes online – while I was certainly guilty of this myself back home, I forgot how much Americans rely on cans. They wanted canned tomatoes, canned black beans, and canned pumpkins – well, I had fresh pumpkin and tomato and dried black beans, and I’m now convinced life is better that way. Black beans take a little over half an hour in the pressure cooker, so after they’d been cooking for 25 minutes I added pumpkin, then started cooking garlic and tomatoes in a pan. I mixed all that up with traditional chili spices and some coriander and a pinch of cinnamon, then decided it would go really well with some whole wheat cornbread. Hemdullah, the cornbread came out of the oven perfectly cooked (and delicious, I’m never using white flour in cornbread again).  This was pretty much the most delicious thing I’d cooked in a long, long time. I wish I had a picture of my pumpkin chili and cornbread, but I was sadly remiss in taking one.

Anyhow, this set off a bit of a cooking extravaganza for me. I haven’t strictly eaten at home this week – on top of the usual visiting people for lunch, I’ve also been to two weddings (after which it’s impossible to eat dinner, they feed you so much!). Even so, after finishing my chili, I made my first from-scratch pumpkin pie (lesson: steam rather than boil the pumpkin) which, encouragingly, came out delicious enough for me to bring the last third down to my landlord and his wife, who wolfed everything down immediately (I’ll take that as a compliment).

Then, since I didn’t have enough pumpkin for another pie (1/2 kilo),  I made mashed pumpkins and potatoes (about 1/2 pound each of pumpkin and potato, mashed around 1/2 an onion and some garlic fried in a little bit of butter. No spices necessary). This sadly was the last of my pumpkin. I tried to get more at the shops in my neighborhood, but they were all plumb out of pumpkin – so I got some eggs instead, and after considering my options at home, made some quichelettes:

Yay for baby quiche!

I’ve been hesitant to use my oven very much before this point, because I (a) never baked a lot in the states and (b) have had a very slow learning curve in trying to get my Moroccan oven to obey me. I think, though, that I’ve finally figured out how to stop burning things while simultaneously under-cooking their insides, drying them out, or, as one friend recently did, burning my eyebrows off due to lighting difficulties.

I’m super excited to go to souq on Sunday in Tinjdad to pick up more pumpkin – in gearing up for Thanksgiving, I fully intend to be the pie fairy, delivering pies to friends of mine in town and wishing them happy ‘3id n shukr’, Feast of Thanks.

I ate a ram’s “egg” and other 3id happenings

I’m home for a moment between visiting various members of my community – I am full to bursting, and I need a second to let everything settle down. Last year I learned that 3id Kbir (aka Tafaska) is a marathon rather than a sprint, and so at 24 hours in I’m taking a quick breather – there are still three more full days.  Here are a few of the events, starting yesterday (Arafa, or ‘3id Eve’):

  • I went souq shopping in Tinjdad on Sunday to buy my 3idwear – everyone has a new outfit on l’3id, so I got myself a sweater and a pajama set. I thought I’d get away with wearing my pajamas today and saving my sweater for cold nights, but it cooled off a lot here over the weekend and I had to wear everything I had to stay warm.
  • Because I went souq shopping, I didn’t eat lunch. I had a bit of a snack, but when ‘douez’ (stew, sort of) was served to a male member of my family after I’d been hanging out a few hours, I decided to have a little. When we got down to the meat, I couldn’t really figure it out – it sort of looked like there was a tumor on what I’d been served, or maybe a big thing of fat. I was told to go ahead and eat it, so I did.. you eat things here with bread, and when I prodded it with my bread a lot of stuff with about the same shape as ramyeon and size of angel hair pasta came out. I went ahead and ate it (it tasted pretty mild, completely inoffensive), and then asked what it was.. an egg, they tell me – a popular euphemism here for testicle. I thought this was a dish only male PCVs would get to eat; I have a new winner for strangest food I’ve eaten (although, really, the sheep cheek doesn’t fall far behind).
  • I got to witness the slaughter of the sheep from beginning to when we were eating the insides on skewers. The guy that did the slaughtering and gutting wasn’t in my host family, so I didn’t want to take too many pictures of him.. here’s a few that just contain the sheep (and one with me)

Freshly slaughtered ram.

A hole is made in the skin of the leg, through which a man blows up the ram like a balloon. The skinning is easier this way.

With the gutted ram. Note a few unusable portions of intestines still on the ground, and the way it's hanging by its own feet looped together.

  • A polite way to greet someone clearly doing a task around here is to ask for confirmation of what they’re doing.. ‘are you carrying water?’ or ‘are you cutting alfalfa?’ or ‘are you picking olives?’, to name a few. So as I walk by a ditch on my way home I see a woman I know, and I call down to her ‘are you washing something?’ She replies in the affirmative, and lifts the object out of the water – half a ram’s head. So I ask if it’s for dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow, continue with a little more small talk, and go on my way. It occurred to me that felt way more normal than maybe it should have.
  • I am absolutely impressed with the ability of my neighbors to pack this food away. My diet in the last 24 hours has been nearly all ram, bread, cookies, and tea – I did have a little fruit with dinner and a little coffee with breakfast for variety. And there’s been a lot of it. The thing that still totally boggles my mind is that after eating enough kebab meat to satisfy a lion, a tajine or plate of meat is served and eaten up voraciously with bread. I normally try to at least look like I’m eating it, but today at lunch I reached my limit early, and begged off the last few rounds of kebabs and sitting for the ‘meal’ altogether.
  • To be kept in mind: this intensity, although with focus on other parts (e.g. head and feet tomorrow), will last for three more days.