baking life life in morocco sweets

Christmas in Casa (+ Sesame Butter Cookies)

23 December 2013


[Point Reyes National Seashore, November 2011.]

I started writing this post, no joke, about two years ago. Well, I actually didn’t write anything in here so much as I just stuck in a recipe for sesame cookies as a placeholder — but still. Two years. Back then, I had plans to detail a camping trip taken to Wildcat Beach the day after Thanksgiving: we’d hiked out in a pea-soup fog and went to sleep probably around 7 p.m. because once the sun was down there wasn’t much else to do (plus it was chilly). But the gift was the next morning, which dawned clear and sunny and bright. We walked along the deserted beach almost to the waterfall; the tide was in so there wasn’t much sand but it didn’t matter. Then up, up the hill back to the trail and we went the coastal way which took us out over the ocean (it seemed) and down and around by Arch Rock and then back through the cool woods to Bear Valley. We’ll be back soon, I said then — but I haven’t been, not at all, though I did log some running miles in the Seashore. Maybe this summer we’ll go. I want Sierra to start her backpacking/camping experiences early. Is 10 months old too early? Hopefully not.

Obviously there will not be any more photos like the above taken any time soon. I had written a lot of words about why this displeases me but then I deleted them because after all what is the point of belaboring one’s homesickness? And I don’t like to focus on the negative: for all that I miss about California there is a lot to embrace here: the rough, wild Atlantic Ocean that I can see from my bedroom window (and I swear I can hear the surf from even a mile away); the surprisingly mild and sunny weather during the day (and the chill at night, so it feels like proper winter); the ability to tuck the girl into the bjorn and walk to the corniche to get even closer to the water, grubby though that walk may be; the fact that our house is coming together quite cozily; we fixed the Internet at home and boy, that really does help a whole lot …

Also, you know, Christmas. We do not celebrate religiously, but we do celebrate — a wee tree, stockings, cookies, mailing out cards, the whole thing. We went to the Morocco Mall the first weekend I was here — supposedly the largest mall in Africa, this place boasts two Starbucks coffees, a Pinkberry, Gap, Banana Republic … plus many other American stores if you are missing that stuff — and in a surreal twist of fate were confronted with sparkly lights, Christmas trees, and carols. Interspersed with ‘Oh Holy Night’ on the loudspeakers was the call to prayer, cementing my feeling that I had suddenly entered a sort of bizarro universe, Morocco being a Muslim country. And yet it was comforting somehow, too, for this will be my first Christmas not only not in the United States but also not in California, not in Sebastopol, not in the house I grew up in for gosh sakes. Seeing fake snowflakes and reindeer was completely unexpected yet somehow welcome at the same time.

It will take me awhile to feel settled here, if I ever do. I don’t expect I will, really, but hopefully I will feel more comfortable. Time, time. I certainly have a lot of that.

Meanwhile, I have been cooking as much as I have the energy for. Still I long for organic dairy (somewhere? some day?), any kind of leafy winter greens (spinach, wherefore art thou?) and winter squash and/or sweet potatoes, and more ‘bio’ products but as I am well aware, this ain’t the Bay Area (update: yesterday we went to the ‘King’s Market’, a tiny organic store not too far from our house and I found a bit of spinach and lots of butternut squash. So.). It matters a little, but what matters more is that I can mostly make do with what is available. I have cooked baked polenta with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, white beans sauteed with zucchini and mushrooms, butterscotch pudding, a huge pot of lentil soup that I ate off of nearly every day for a week, buttermilk biscuits etc. etc. A few of those I should detail more, and soon, but first things first: a trip to an organic health food store (!!!!!) later this week where supposedly I can get quinoa, brown rice, tofu … yes, you can take the girl out of California but you can’t take California out of the girl.

I’ve also been plotting my Christmas menus and baking cookies at last. I am contemplating making for the eve

a cheese souffle (+ the little bit of spinach I found)
corn muffins
sauteed green beans + carrots with dill
gingerbread cake

and for the day

breakfast of yeasted waffles, scrambled eggs, fruit
lunch of hummus + blue corn chips; cheese and crackers; lots of Christmas cookies

and then for dinner

hint o’ cream broccoli soup
homemade gnocchi with peas + mushrooms + sage
roasted cauliflower
fennel + tangerine salad
caramelized apple + pear upside-down cake
pumpkin pie?

(All of these endeavors of course being depending on the napping – or lack of – skills of my wee girlie.)

It is supposed to rain on Christmas so I envision either a quick trip down to the beach anyway, with coffees clutched in our hands (some traditions must be observed even when one is far from home), or just lots of mellow, cozy inside time. I hope for a Christmas miracle in the form of my silly faux tree I ordered from amazon arriving ASAP as well as less selfish things like a gentle slide into the new year with good health and happiness for all those near and dear to me (and for you, too!). I am taking a deep breathe and squaring my shoulders and seizing onto a determination to make the best of this ‘adventure’, such as it is. Once I am over this dratted cold I’ve been nursing for the better part of a week and when it’s a little lighter in the mornings so I can slip out for a run before DW goes to work I will surely feel more like me again.

The cookies I am baking this year are not particularly fancy ones, but they are comforting and familiar and that is exactly what I need right now. First, a batch of salted brown butter cookies via Gourmet that will be cut into trees and gingerbread men (my gingerbread will be … interesting this year as there is no molasses to be found here. Am going to try for a honey/maple syrup blend as a substitute.); then, these sugared pretzel cookies via smitten kitchen (well — I think so. That seems like an awful lot of similarly-tasting stuff.); perhaps a quick batch of peanut-butter chocolate cookies; and finally a slew of my beloved sesame butter cookies.

One of the particulars I’ve already realized about living in Morocco is that there are a lot of items I took for granted in the States which are unavailable here. Molasses being no. 1 on the list at this juncture, as well as so many vegetables I covet and am used to having (another reason I am planning a kitchen garden; I must have chard. And kale. And so forth.), plus a plethora of ice creams made from simple ingredients, lots of whole grains, you know. Basically all that fancy Northern California stuff I’ve become addicted to these past eight years. I would seriously ransack my moldering 401k for half of an inventory of a Whole Foods store right now. Sigh. Clearly I will learn to make the most of what I can get BUT it is not always easy. My new year’s resolution is to be cheerful about this.

For example: here we are at the holidays and there’s not a cranberry — dried, fresh, frozen, or pureed — to be found. However, there are sesame seeds in great abundance and so it was a natural decision to dredge up this this old post that was never quite written two years ago to find the recipe. These are lovely cookies, and comprised of easy-to-find ingredients even when one is living in North Africa: all you need is sugar, butter, flour, sesame seeds, almonds, and a bit of coconut to create a not-too-sweet and rich cookie. DW obtained coconut at the commissary last week in Rabat and so after all I was able to bring a bit of my childhood Christmas in Sebastopol to my current Christmas situation in Casablanca. Sierra is too small to eat these, of course, but I will, and she will sit in the kitchen with me while I do. This year in Casa, maybe next in Cali. There’s a lot of months in between then and now and I hope to make the most of them.

Wishing you happy days, however you celebrate.

  • sonrie 25 December 2013 at 8:46 am

    You talked about going to the mall and having a cultural clash… well in my local newspaper, there was an article about a Muslim family from the Sudan relocated to St. Louis who was going to celebrate Christmas as an American cultural holiday and the article said they chose a tree and ornaments and gifts. Everyone is trying to find their way somewhere, it seems with instant access to other cultures. Hope the dose of “American” at the mall helps just a little bit. :)

  • Helen spiridakis 23 December 2013 at 11:58 pm

    These cookies are really very delicious!

  • Helen spiridakis 23 December 2013 at 11:11 am

    Miss you my dear…..but as always, you are making the best of things so life will be good! You’ll all be with us in spirit (not to mention all those gifts you left for us). Happy Holidays and spring is gaining on us so we’ll be together soon.

  • Keith Travers 23 December 2013 at 8:29 am

    Great story, as usual! Merry Christmas to you, DW and the baby!

  • Laurie 23 December 2013 at 6:44 am

    N, so very lovely to read a post from you (over there on the other side of the world). It’s a dank, wet day in New Jersey and my old dog threw up some gunk. I’m staying away from shopping malls and waiting for the days to grow longer again. In your honor I will go to my local Whole Foods and buy some chard.
    Happy holidays and a blessed year for your family. I’m glad you have some familiar things around you. It’s all about the bebe now anyway. She’s home in your arms, that’s the only country she needs.
    Happy new year, dear.

  • connie 23 December 2013 at 5:17 am

    If I had the magic I would load a sleigh with a fresh Douglas Fir,at least 5 pounds of organic cranberries, some of this wonderful Marion County Florida citrus (from the Citrus Shoppe in Citra…(since 1947 !) a gallon of blackstrap molasses, gingerbread house and men, organic greens…collards,escarole,spinach,kale…and some radishes , a huge featherbed to wrap you and baby and husband up and the Vienna Boys choir to serenade you all to sleep…dreaming of a horse drawn sleigh ride in the snow,through the forest….Merry Christmas to you and yours !