Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Field Work...

Among the many jobs I've assigned myself over the past few months, the most difficult task just might be the hunt for the perfect cannelé.  
This petit pastry is a Bordelais specialty- no market is complete without at least two competing cannelé makers and, like the ever present Starbucks cafés at home, Bordeaux's famous cannelé shop, Baillardran, has a chain of shops all over town.  
These little fluted cookies/cakes/things, who share the same name as the french word for column (see the resemblance?) are hard to categorize.  With dark, caramelized exteriors and spongy insides, the cannelé might be best described as a baked custard.  The recipe is simple: milk, butter, sugar, eggs, etc.. But the process of creating the perfect cannelé, is not so easy.  After a little poking around in an attempt to solve why these are particularly famous in Bordeaux (a search that yielded many versions of an old story about baking nuns), I came across a full description on how these little cakes are baked via Chez Pim.
Cannelés here are fairly pricey.  A croissant will cost you approximately 85¢, but a cannelé de Bordeaux will set you back around two euro.  And now, after readin Pim's description of how they're made, I know why. (Pim, by the way, happens to be a friend of Kendra, small world.)
Each copper cannelé baking mold must first be coated with beeswax and white oil, and then the batter must rest for almost two days.  And, despite precautions, results are hit and miss.  Evenly baked cannelés are hard to produce and thus, bakers have taken to selling cannelés to patrons according to their crust preferences.  You can order them cru, moyen, or bien cuit, just like a steak! All this work for something that is, well, really not that amazing. 
I know, I know, I'm the worst pastry assistant in the world.
The taste, however, has done little to deter me in the hunt.  Amazing or not, I'll keep eating cannelés in the name of research, and maybe one day, I'll find one that will make it all worthwhile.  
Until then, here's the round up on some of the best cannelés in Bordeaux.

Marché au Chatron-  This Sunday morning market has some of the only hot cannelés I've tasted.  The baker here has a booth set up with an oven and he pulls out freshly baked cannelés all morning.  I get the little bag of six minis for two euros.

La Boulangerie- The cannelés here have a different texture than any of the other ones I've tried.  The crust, instead of being shiny and shell like, seems more a part of the pastry.  Worth trying for a taste comparison.

Ballairdran- I put off trying a cannelé from here for the longest time.  I assumed the big red awnings and giant window displays were a cover for inferior quality.  But they are quite popular.
And, after finally dragging myself in there, I have to admit , they are probably the best in Bordeaux.  The inside, particularly, stands above the rest; the custard is spotted with thousands of tiny vanilla bean seeds.

The search continues, but here's a secret:  I actually like cannelés better in California. La Boulange in the bay area, must add extra rum to their cakes- they're quite addictive.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


 I haven't felt very inspired to leave my bed this past week.  I've been mourning the loss of my camera, which after one to many adventures, finally past away on Thursday. After such a tragedy I decided, I just needed something comforting.  
And you know what, comforters are comforting.
Fancy that.
When I did finally pull myself out of this tangle of sheets, I set about baking away my sorrows.  However, after multiple cooking incidents ranging from miseyeballed metric conversions to the shortcomings of an easy-bake oven, this remedy was eventually abandoned and I resorted to staring at pictures of new cameras from the security of my bed.  During this period of wallowing, I compiled a list of things that I miss from home:
Baking Powder
Powdered Sugar 
Brown Sugar
Measuring Cups
Parchment Paper
Baking Sheets
A Food Processor
My Mom's Oven
Gas Stoves
Sharp Knives
Stand Up Showers

Moping has been very productive for homesick blues, and naturally, this list could go on and on and on.  I've managed to intercept some of this melancholy however by adding things to my Svpply.  This dandy little website allows you to create a list of everything you want need, and in some odd way, making these lists makes me feel a wee bit better...
As for the status of my camera, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do quite yet.  Until I figure it out, I suppose I'll just post some b-roll from my iphoto; pictures that were taken pre-camera death, and in many cases, pre-French visa.  Check back for pictures of Portland, full moons, funny faces, and whatever else I can find in the recesses of my hard drive. 
Perhaps a little bit of nostalgia will drag me out from under this raincloud.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Great Expectations...

After such a long time living out of a suitcase, my clothes were in shreds, my hair wild, and my posture a little stooped from nights spent rolled in rugs on the desert sand and the crooked shapes I forced my body into during the hours and hours spent aboard public transit.  While none of this really seemed to matter in Morocco, the return to the continent was a bit shocking and I found myself longing to go home, back to a private bathroom, a fresh change of clothes, and my own kitchen.  
I imagined we were a sorry sight, dragging our baggage through the door of our hostel in Madrid, already weary of the idea of spending just one night and hopping back on the plane in the morning.  When we asked Bau, the receptionist at Way, where we should eat for dinner, I was already resigned to the idea of being shuffled of to somewhere backpacker-appropriate.  
On an old piece of scratch paper, he drew us a little map to Naia.  After a few wrong turns, and a lovely little tour of the neighborhood, we found it.

And my jaw dropped.

This is not a restaurant for dirty backpackers.  In fact, it's not really a restaurant for clean backpackers either.  It' seemed more like a place for smartly dressed urban socialites and fine diners.  For a moment I thought I was back in Portland, and though I smelled a bit like camel and still had sand leaking out of my shoes, I immediately felt right at home.
Not only is Naia beautifully designed with mismatched wooden tables, antique accordion lamps stretching out from the walls, beautiful menus and bespectacled waiters dressed in denim aprons that fasten in the back with a button, but the food is good.
Really good.
Confit of suckling pig with wild mushroom ragout, mint and garlic chimichurri and a new potato.  
Monkfish over creamy truffle and egg risotto.  
Croquettes of Ibérico ham and romescu sauce
After dinner, house digestivos, and the struggle to finish everything off with a giant cookie served straight from the oven in a skillet, I didn't feel quite so grungy anymore.  In fact, I felt jim dandy.  
Funny what wonders a good meal can do.
Thank you, Bau!

P.S.  I thought the French ate late, but it's nothing compared to the Spaniards.  We were starving by the time the restaurant opened at 8.30, but we dined alone until nearly 10pm, when a line began to form at the door. I don't know if I'll ever get used to this!

Real Madrid...

I never thought I wanted to go to Spain.
I think mostly this was just due to naivety,  I honestly didn't really know anything about it.
I didn't know how kind and relaxed the people were.  I didn't know how the colorful the cities would be.  I didn't know how pleasant it is to walk past the neighborhood parks at ten in the evening where families still linger, socializing in the warm night air.  I didn't know how well designed and the storefronts would be.  I didn't know anything about tinto de verano.  And I definitely did not know  how amazing the food is in Spain!
But now I do, and as soon as I can, I'll be back.  The few hours I spent wandering the colorful streets of Madrid made me realize how much I needed something I hadn't even know existed.

Hasta lluego, Madrid! 

 Don Quixote?

Where We Went...

Before I left for Morocco, I solicited what the advice I could from Shannon's friend, Johanna Dooley. Johanna had studied in Marrakesh last spring and sent me a wonderful list of Arabic phrases that came in super handy as we made our way around the country.  Whether we were haggling in the market souks, bantering with taxi drivers, or seeking the good graces of strangers, people in Morocco would light up with a single "Salaam".  With Johanna's list as a springboard, I did my best to acquire as much Arabic (and Berber) as I could.  Everyone was eager to help and by the end of my time in Morocco, I was babbling like a parrot and telling everyone we met that, "ana faquera" which result in a lot of laughter and instant bonding.

At some point I'd like to expand my vocabulary beyond these simple phrases, but until then, these are the expressions that I picked up while in Morocco. (I don't really know how they're actually spelled, so I did my best to write them down the way I heard them. Also, both the Arabic and Berber are regional, so everyone who helped me out had a different opinion on how to say this and that.)  I know it's silly, but I was really proud of my simple vocabulary.  However, everyone in Morocco speaks around five languages with relative ease.  
Obviously I have some learning to do.

salaam alykoomb- hello (this usually is enough to prompt people to launch into an exited conversation with you about whether or not you know Arabic, etc.)
(this greeting is returned with alykoomb salaam)
shrukran- thank you
shrukran jazilaan- thank you very much
bay salaam- goodbye
ma salaama- go with god (sort of an alternative to goodbye, I think)
shmeetee Chloë- my name is Chloë
ana taliba, ana faquera- I'm a student, I'm poor (everyone I met was poor too, this is a great way to find things in common, haha)
la- no
wwaha- yes
hamsa- five (I don't know why this one stuck and no other numbers...)
yellaah- let's go
masheley moushki- not a problem
allah akbah- god is great
inch'allah- god willing (you can pretty much say this as a response to anything.  It especially comes in handy if you're trying to be non commital.)
buhsaaha- bon appetite
zweena- pretty
shway-shwaya- a little bit (perfect think to say when someone asks if you speak Arabic)

azul- hello (literal translation, my heart is with you)
lahinim- goodbye
harumbarum- cheers
waaha- okay
saaha- thank you
oralee moushkie- not a problem
shannima-shannima- little by little
alroam- camel
zaydi da tay- more tea
larhamaldin- please
earmiyr youf outhaa- better than nothing
afa- fire
yellando s'___- let's go to the ____
fah hempt- understood
yellando- let's go
am d'allah- thank god
ezweena- pretty
jasawalla shannimirror- I only speak a little
la pho'- a thank you said when someone passes you something unhealthy (ex. a joint, etc)
ordesawall n'Berber- I don't speak Berber

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Terrace Lunch...

Oddly, my suitcase was much emptier on the flight back from Morocco than the flight there.  I'd like to think that after weeks perfecting my daily packing ritual, I had finally gotten it down.  While this may play a small role, it probably has more to do with the articles of clothing left behind in various hostels over the past weeks, the state of my remaining wardrobe (full of holes and desert sand), and the very sad fact that I didn't buy anything in Morocco.
Initially overwhelmed with the sensory stimulus of the market souks, and then  loathe to cart tea cups and carpet bags around the country, I kept a running list of things that I wanted to pick up on my last day in Marrakesh, right before I left.  Unfortunately for me, this date happened to correspond with a national sheep sacrificing holiday, memorializing the day God told Abraham he must prove his faith by sacrificing his son and then sending an angel to intervene.  The angel told Abraham he could sacrifice a sheep instead, and this has become an annual tradition throughout Islamic countries, and a reason to close up shop for the day.
So, in lieu of scouting for Moroccan treasures, I spent my last day in Marrakesh drinking pot after pot of mint tea, and siesta-ing on the terrace.  I am going to miss these rooftop evenings, the beautiful cry of the muezzin echoing from the top of the mosque, the pace life takes while waiting for tea to cool.  And so, while I'm leaving without any leather bags, ceramic bowls, or tin lanterns, I'm not coming back completely empty handed.  When I get home, I'll still have these rituals which will work their way into my everyday life, and in this way, Morocco will stay with me.
(Although, I don't think the sand is ever going to get out of my hair or my pockets.)


Trying to capture the colors of Marrakesh before I go.

Weather forcast for Bordeaux:  grey skies and rain.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Something Sweet...

Even Hannah, who has always adamantly said she doesn't like sugary things, became a converted sweet-tooth Morocco.  We missed no opportunity to sample the sweet street desserts that called to us from every street corner.  
Here you can find pastilla, an almond and chicken pastry dusted with powedered sugar, two types of Moroccan crêpes, Msemmen which is thick and flakey and Beghrir, thin and warm with a million airy bubbles on the underside. Then, of course there are the fresh fried doughnuts, sesame cookies, banana cakes, and so many things I have no name for.

For one brief moment today, I thought it wouldn't be so bad to go back to Bordeaux after all.  After three weeks of life on the road, I am really beginning to miss of cooking for myself, regardless of how tasty Morocco has been. 
Then I remembered our sorry kitchen: a two-burner electric stove, one tiny easy-bake oven,  and an all to apparent lack of kitchen amenities.

 On second thought, I'd rather just stay here.

Marrakesh Express...

The past days have been filled with the most extreme travel circumstances I have ever experienced.  In brief, we have been squished like sardines in buses crammed full of people and animals, sat for hours in traffic created by a sacrificial sheep festival while passengers got out to walk alongside the bus, shared a five person taxi with seven other people for an entire day, endured journeys with carsick children and screaming babies, braved the dark corridors of the overnight train from Tangier to Marrakesh, and finally, learned how to sleep sitting upright.  
Despite these odds, there was not a single thing I would take back.  Each experience is an adventure, and I am enjoying every moment.

And, our perseverance was rewarded in the end.  After eleven hours on the train, we arrived here, at Riad Layla Rouge.  This was the perfect place to end our travels through Morocco. 


The staff at Layla Rouge were some of the nicest people we met during our travels.  When we arrived, we were served what would become the first of many silver pots of mint tea our hosts had ready for us day or night. We were given soaps and shampoos for the showers, cooked a hot breakfast, and given a tour of the terrace where tortoises basked in the sun.  In the afternoon, we were personally led through the souk to the best carpet shop in Marrakesh, and the best place to buy stock up on spices. At night we shared more mint tea as we sat on the terrace with the hostel's family of tortoises, and had our room smudged with burning spices from Mecca before we went to sleep. 
The intimacy and hospitality of Layla Rouge was so nice, and so needed after our extreme adventures navigating Morocco's public transportation.

Needless to say, I didn't want to leave. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Blue City...

High in the Andalusian hills of Northern Morocco sits a tiny village, nearly indistinguishable from the clouds the crown the mountaintop.  The blue washed walls of Chefchaouen seem to slow the general hustle and bustle of typical Moroccan streets and instead, radiate a calm throughout this small city. This is the sort of place a polar bear might choose to hibernate, the shadows and illusions created by the glacial blue walls created an mirage of ice that melt into the sky.

Tucked here and there in the alleys of the medina, are small fountains, each with a shelf of colorful plastic mugs.  The region is known for its high quality fresh water that tumbles down from the hilltops in streams and waterfalls. The people of Chefchaouen stop regularly at these public fountains to hydrate before make their way up and down the steep city streets.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Street Food...

I think the reason I have yet to get lost here is that it is so easy to follow your nose!  
Wafting out of every alley and around door frame come the beautiful chorus of smells that make up Morocco.  Spices and charcoal, crushed mint leaves together with the deep smell of old stone walls and dust, all mixed up with things I couldn't even begin to name.
  The best places to eat here are the most aromatic- the food carts, and vendors tucked into small alcoves in the walls of the city souk.  I've eaten everything from snails to camel, and seen everything from paint scrapers for spatulas and cardboard grilling fans, to Gaddafi die over and over again on Moroccan television while a dining room full of Moroccan men translated the news from Arabic into French for our benefit.  
Here are a few meals from Marrakesh, Fez and Essouaira.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunrise Caravan...

Huddled together in an effort to stay warm in the semi-darkness of dawn, we shared a breakfast of olives, Moroccan pain and the perfunctory pot of mint tea while our Berber hosts readied the camels. We made our way slowly and sleepily across the dunes as the sun rose to meet us, changing the color of the sand with every step.