It’s not the granola that’s making me smile

 

I’ve never felt so happy reaching into the cupboard for a breakfast bowl. It’s not just because these gorgeous bowl are saturated with intense, beautifully rich colours, decorated with quirky fish doodles and finished off with a sprinkling of stars (I love stars). It’s not even the prospect of granola, swimming in ice cold milk, that makes me feel so good. It’s how I came by the bowls that makes me feel so flippin’ joyful.

For those of you that don’t know, I just got back from climbing Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. Why? Because a series of serendipitous events left me in doubt it was the right thing to do.

Its been my dream for as long as I can remember to visit Marrakech so the offer of a trek up the Atlas Mountains with a day either side in Marrakech seemed just the ticket. I was more focused on the colours, the spices, the city and the souks than the summit. Then I met the mountain and it changed everything.

But let’s get back to the bowls. After returning from the mountain a few of us went into the souks to have a look around. I bought a hat, another one. It’s the Berber equivalent of a beanie and I paid 50 dirhams (or dib-dabs as we like to call them ) That’s around a fiver. We wandered through narrow streets marvelling at the brass lanterns and the many intricate, colourful rugs. We laughed at the funny slippers with curly toes and ducked and dived out of the way of the scooters, mopeds and strange motorbikes that careered down the narrow streets.

Then we happened upon a very colourful crockery stall packed to the brim with cups, plates, bowls and tagines. Lit up in the night who could resist? Well Peter, my new travelling friend, couldn’t. He was like a moth to a flame, captivated by a selection of enormous swirly plates.The shopkeeper knew he had him and so the haggling began. While Peter was being so beautifully fleeced I began to browse a selection of bowls. I wasn’t particularly interested in buying bowls, after all, how would I get them home? But the more I looked the more I kind’ve liked them.

“I give you a good price for a bowl” said the shrewd salesman, spotting my vague interest. “Oh I’m just looking” I said with a smile. What happened next was brilliant and I can honestly say I have never laughed as much as I did that night in a crockery shop in the souks. My sides were splitting! The haggling we got involved in was hilarious. Backwards and forwards we went with more and more bowls being added. We were having the best of times and then our new friend paused for a moment. ” Let’s be serious for a moment” he said. ” We are communicating, building a relationship. I still need to make a living, make money on these pots but this time is important.” And I realised, in that moment, that these connections are priceless. The relationship I was having, the time he was giving me, not the pots, was what I was paying for. I would have given him the world at that point for bringing so much joy and laughter to my life however, there are expectations in Morocco and so the haggling continued in earnest. He even dropped the price for another smile; I was beaming.

Five beautiful bowls later he wraps them up in bubble wrap. Richard, our amazing guide, reminds me of the beanie and suggests we put it over the top to keep the bowls safe; the situation goes from the sublime to the ridiculous! Our hilarious seller decides to draw a smiley face on the package to match mine. He then puts it under his arm and walks through the shop declaring it to be a new baby. I am convulsing with laughter and see the others are too. He gives me 20 dirhams back to look after the bowls!!! I am in pieces.

http://www.morocco-guides.com if anyone fancies the trek. I highly recommend it.

Spice up your life

The frying pan spits and sizzles as I shake it enthusiastically by the handle; the finely sliced onions and chunky, chopped garlic dance in the heat and my kitchen is filled with a delicious aroma.
I add fiery grated ginger to the mix then a sprinkle of cinnamon, a dash of cumin, a flash of rich yellow turmeric; I swirl them around and watch, entranced, as the colours and flavours intensify.

The fragrance has caused the Broccoli family to stir; one by one they wander into the kitchen curiosity getting the better of them.

“What is it?” they enquire “It smells so good!”

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I am making Moroccan chicken tagine. I’ve always wanted to go to Morocco, always. I dream of resting in a riad in Marrakech, dipping my toes into a tiny pool on the surface of which floats scented soft, scented rose petals. As night-time falls I long to see the sun slip down over the rooftops just as the call to prayer sounds over the city.
I know that, when I see the market place come alive, I will throw myself headlong into the crowds. I will take in deep lungfuls of the heady night air; rich with the fragrance of spices. Intoxicated by the scents and colours and feeling the warm breeze on my skin I will explore the whole place, savouring every moment.

I blame the Hairy Bikers for fanning the flames of my Moroccan dream. I watched a recent documentary where they visited the country and indulged in the finest local food; it was brilliant. Programmes such as these ignite the wanderlust in me and, if I can’t get to Marrakech just yet I will bring a little bit of eastern magic to my kitchen instead.

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It’s not just seeing places on the tv that inspires me, I’ve just read an article about cooking over fires in Mendoza, Argentina and I so desperately want to go. The descriptive piece, written by Daniel Neilson for National geographic traveller, transported me to another place. I could smell the smoke, I could hear the sizzling sounds, I could feel the passion of those cooking and sweating over the fires; I could feel the passion. The Vines of Mendoza I’m heading your way for meat and Malbec.

I can count on one hand the people I know who are passionate about food. They revel in the joy of food, they take pride in the cooking of it and delight in sharing it with others. The countenance of a passionate foodie can likened to a person in love; they sparkle and their passion causes conversation to flow like good wine.

This passion for food is something I am now embracing wholeheartedly following a recent conversation, held well into the night with the eldest Broccoli, that has got me all fired up. We were discussing, helped by more than a few Cuban cocktails, a thread on Instagram that encourages readers to reconsider their relationship with food. So I did and here’s how it goes.

Cooking, for me, is an adventure. I love exploring new recipes, I love trying new things. Herbs and spices are my best friends in the kitchen and I can travel far in my imagination when I inhale their aromas. I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction when my family enjoy the food I cook; when we sit down together and talk about the day. These are simple pleasures that should never be taken away.

But I nearly lost this passion; nearly.

My interest, my passion, my love turned to guilt. Why? Because the magazines I see portray food as the enemy. The conversations I hear focus on weight loss. The society I live in is obsessed with body image and I started to get sucked in. I began to avoid bread; I swapped meat for Quorn; I made jam and felt sad because I couldn’t eat it because I might get fat. Because sugar is wrong, right?
As I started to fear these foods I could feel my joy fading and I like my joy. I also like my jam and, hand on heart, I love warm, freshly baked bread. Quorn products? Well they have their place but I’ve never really felt much passion when cooking Quorn cottage pie; all I felt was obligation.
Then I read the article about cooking on fire in Mendoza and I felt my passion flicker; then I watched the Hairy bikers and got the fire back in my belly. The desire to make and eat good food is burning bright my friends thanks to the writers and broadcasters who choose to celebrate all that is good about food.