[The Atlantic at Anfa, September 2014.]
Fall has magical qualities — the light shifts, leaves drift down softly (even in North Africa), the sky is the deepest, bluest sky you’ll see all year. The wind has picked up off of the ocean here and on afternoons it scrubs the houses of my neighborhood and burnishes the wild leaves on the hedge and tosses about the great fronds of the banana tree that is cozied up to my front door. Sierra and I have been taking advantage of these cooler days by sitting on a blanket in our yard and looking up at the palm trees, the birds already heading south, the clouds blowing out to sea. This season is my favorite and I am glad to find it’s still so, even in a new(ish) place. First fall in Morocco, first fall with the wee one awake and aware of it all. It’s impossible not to want to slow down and soak up the sun, the wind, these precious days before her first birthday. And so we are; we are paring life down to its most simple and trying to get out of doors as much as we can manage.
[In our yard, September 2014.]
My friend Lisa wrote a post recently, the kind of post that when I read it last week I was struck immediately and took a pause. It was about finding the wild in the seemingly more familiar or more cluttered places, in urban and in not. Too often I have lamented being in what I describe as an ‘urban suburb’ here in Casa, forgetting to remark upon the flora and fauna that surrounds us even in this hectic and crowded city. From where I sit in my living room typing this I can see the neighbor’s house, true, but I also see my green and unruly fig tree, the bananas dropping low, the palm tree dripping what are perhaps edible dates. And the birds! They fly in droves over the house and last spring a hawk made my skylight his home base for a time. The ocean is visible from the upstairs back bedroom and reminds me that for all the beeping cars and hectic sounds off the crowded road outside our little housing area the earth still reigns. Nature is everywhere and anywhere; sometimes you just have to look a bit harder to find it.
Our vacation in California was wonderful, full of friends and family and lots of good coffee and my beloved ‘super veggie’ burritos. We swam in Tomales Bay and hiked around Bodega Head and did a couple of pretty gnarly runs along the Inverness Ridge. One early morning in the Seashore I saw a bobcat crouching under a fern; after coffee on another foggy morning we saw a coyote trotting alongside Sir Francis Drake as if he owned it. I got more than one scone from Wild Flour bakery (more on that soonish) and went out to lunch probably more than was rational. We ate apples off the tree and sat under the redwoods and went to beaches empty and booming with sun and fog. Nights were q u i e t and full of stars. I wasn’t particularly excited to leave of course but I feel like I really filled those 6 weeks to the brim; nothing felt lacking and thus I find myself back in Casa reflecting upon our time there with fondness rather than a sinking nostalgia. Grateful for this, obviously.
Something for me has shifted a bit since our return, and I’m grateful for this too. Perhaps it’s the weather, the light, that sweet fall-feeling promising … something … even if we are unable to identify exactly what that something is. Maybe it’s my new Friday yoga class taken outside with a view of the Atlantic. After all being near the ocean – be it the Mediterranean, the Pacific, the Atlantic – with its constant movement and muffled roar is its own kind of peace. Whatever has wrought this sea-change of sorts I am figuratively diving in. If I can’t be in California for now, well, I may as well try to embrace the place where I am. Starting with incorporating more flavors of my temporarily adopted country into my kitchen — specifically, dates.
To be frank, I have not been a fan of dates. They’re too sweet for me and eating them one by one has never appealed. And yet. Their presence in cooking goes part and parcel with living in Morocco. If I choose not to break my fast with dates and milk – and if I choose not to fast at all — I can at least explore other ways to use this very North African fruit in ways that may tempt my appetite.
Enter the date shake.
This is an incredibly simple recipe but oh! how I’ve come to crave it especially after a run or that yoga class. The protein in the almond butter and almond milk replenishes tired muscles, the banana makes it substantial enough to shave the edge off of hunger, the dates give a kick of sweetness to bring it all together. I imagine peanut butter would be nice here as well but the combination of almond + dates is just sublime and, you know, quite a la marocain.
I have a version of homemade harissa (and then, harissa butter) in my sights but until I gather up the ingredients to do so I am making shakes, and logging some morning miles along the coast, and soaking up this sun. Fall is fleeting as I’m well aware, and I don’t want to miss it.
Full disclosure: I have stopped putting in the dates and just make this with almond butter as the main flavor (peanut butter would be nice, too) and it’s just the best thing. But the dates are lovely and I have kept the original recipe to include here. If you do decide to omit them, add another tablespoon of almond butter.
Makes one serving.
1 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons almond butter
3 dates, pitted
splash maple syrup
2 cups ice
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and the ice is crushed. Drink immediately.