The Land of Opportunities

When I was about to land in Chicago, the TV screens on the airplane showed a video welcoming passengers to the U.S.  It showed green lawns, kids chasing golden retrievers, and people of every skin color.  Despite having lived the majority of my life in America and already knowing exactly what it looks like, the video made me pretty excited about arriving in the land of opportunity.

The photos in this post are of bread I've made.  This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

The photos in this post are of bread I’ve made. This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

America isn’t really as perfect as it looks on that video, although that’s not much of a surprise.  However, after being away for a year, there are several things that have surprised me.  First would be the no guns allowed sign all over Chicago (thanks to the conceal and carry law being passed), which is on a lot of public buildings; it’s odd to think that people need to be told that weapons do not belong in public buildings.  Not that I wanted to take a gun into the library, anyway.  Men wearing their pants so low that their butts hang out is not new, but it is still kind of surprising to see after not seeing it for so long (maybe some of them could use a djellaba).  Occasionally getting catcalls when I’m walking to my internship on the South Side is also not new, but is pretty disappointing – I thought I was going to have a break from that!  It is much easier to go for runs or walks here without worrying about what I’m wearing, but it’s not as different from Morocco as I was imagining it to be all of last year.


Oatmeal bread

Another surprise came to me at Walmart.  I made my first ever trip to the all-American store last weekend, and only now do I really understand the purpose of giving up sugar.  Walmart is full of packaged foods, nearly all of which have sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It’s in cereals, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, and pre-prepared meals.  Someone shopping only at Walmart would truly be challenged to totally give up sugar.  And what’s more, the food doesn’t taste the same here, even if bought at fancier stores than Walmart.  The carrots aren’t as sweet, the eggs aren’t as rich, the olive oil doesn’t taste like olives, and the Philadelphia cream cheese has ten ingredients instead of the four in Morocco’s (or Spain’s) version of the exact same brand.  These were difficult discoveries for me when I arrived; I love cooking and baking so much, so I want the ingredients to taste good!

Challah (egg bread)

Challah (egg bread)

I know from working with refugees that new immigrants (and even those who have been abroad for quite a while) have trouble adjusting, unfavorably comparing everything to equivalents in their home country.  It takes a long time to get used to little differences and to both appreciate what is better in the new country and to stop comparing it to the old.  It’s oddly not that much easier when the new country is also where you are from.  I guess I’ve got six more weeks to work on it.  Well, at least my bread loaves are pretty!

This isn't bread!  It's South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

This isn’t bread! It’s South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

Sister Vacation in London

Although it was hard to leave Morocco, even just for two months, my summer started with the best kind of vacation.  I spent a week in London with my favorite sister (don’t worry, she’s also my only sister).  The week started with a couple rainy days, but once it cleared up we were able to fully enjoy London’s beautiful parks, canal, and numerous free and clean public bathrooms, which most certainly could not be found in Casablanca.

Our toes enjoy the fresh air too.

Our toes enjoy the fresh air too.

There is such a great difference between where life is conducted between London and Casa; in London, one could spend the entire day out of the home, and be able to find easy meals, bathrooms, water fountains, and entertainment.  If you do decide to return home for a meal, you could buy your vegetables pre-chopped so that you wouldn’t spend much time in the kitchen.  In Casablanca, it would be hard to find such accommodations, especially for a female.  Spending time in the home is probably more common, and homes are perhaps more spacious.

Best sisters in the V&A Museum park

Best sisters in the V&A Museum park

My sister and I made good use of the parks, often walking for hours.  We concurrently made good use of the water fountains, public bathrooms, and several coffee shops.  We ate some wonderful Thai food, enjoyed some museums, and went for daily morning runs by the canal.  And of course we took lots and lots of pictures of ourselves, mostly in matching outfits, in celebration of being best sisters.

We are able to match in any length of skirt.

We are able to match in any length of skirt.

The Strange Fruits of Casablanca

Every week, I try to bring a guest vegetable into my kitchen.  This past week I branched out and instead tried a new fruit: Kaki, also known as persimmon, and also as disgusting.  Kaki has a pretty good taste, but it has a weird chalky texture that makes you feel like you need to brush your teeth immediately.

A few weeks ago, my guest of honor was fennel.  I got it for free from the vegetable seller who probably thought I was ridiculous for being so perplexed by it.  Fennel is pretty funny-looking, but if you can look past appearances, it’s delicious in salads.
Beets, sweet potatoes (native to Africa, not the same as American yams), green beans, cabbage, and eggplant have also made a debut in my kitchen.  Last week I had pomegranate in my morning yogurt, continuing with the fruit theme.  Next week, I am going to have my sister stay here as a guest instead of vegetables, which should be a much different situation.
A beautiful but time-consuming fruit.
In the spirit of discovery that I’ve been enjoying here in Morocco, my boyfriend and I have been working on developing two original recipes: Eggsta and Magic Menu.  Eggsta is a whimsical combination of eggs and pasta, making a kind of swirled omelette.  We have been cautiously introducing more vegetables to the dish, one at a time.  Magic Menu, an equally droll creation, is a pudding-like dish made of couscous in leben (another mysterious food) that can be infused with a number of delicious fruit combinations.
This week, I have a super exciting holiday-related guest vegetable: pumpkin!  Cleaned out thanks to a team of hardworking kindergarteners who aren’t afraid of a little mess.  Got any pumpkin recipes?!
IMG_3574Some of us thought there would be pasta inside this guy (which would have been good for Eggsta!) but in fact he was filled with pumpkin.

Peanut Butter

Yes, this entry is just about peanut butter.  The search for quality peanut butter outside of the United States has been an ongoing challenge for me, so I think it warrants its own post.  In India and Morocco, the best peanut butter has added oil, and in most of Europe it has added sugar.  As a peanut butter purist, this does not cut it for me.  Is it really so hard to take some peanuts and squish them?  Apparently.  But here in Morocco, I am so incredibly fortunate as to have been provided with imported peanut butter.  Observe:

ImageThis beauty comes all the way from the Central African Republic, which is in fact a lot closer to Morocco than the United States.  Don’t worry about mailing me peanut butter, Mom; I’m set for at least a few months!  My boyfriend’s mom sent this to him, and he gave it to me to use in cooking.  Which I do, nearly every day.  I also eat PB&J just about daily.  So there is some proof that I’m doing okay here in Morocco.

Update: Peanut butter cookies