Thursday, November 15, 2012

wish you were here to eat 12 cent donuts with me

my last post was a struggle, and thematically false: hardly postcards at all, rather the cliff note version of my journal. I realized this when i glanced at Cindy writing actual postcards that were, give or take, 30 words. Quick, redolent of excitement, capturing a moment or a feeling, a sight, in, give or take, 30 words (that particular moment/feeling/sight was the 12 cent--thats right--donut she ate that was shaped, fried, and dipped in sugar just for her while i waited and took pictures with a group of local boys who were as fascinated with my camera phone as Cind was with the donut). I tend to use a few more than thirty, including those wasted to say that i wish i had smaller writing so that i could share more (why even write that then? i mean really, think of the space value of that silly sentence!). Now however, it is not about sending postcards. It is about getting terribly, terribly wordy....

I need to talk in detail about two things:
1) Foods
2) Drinks

Yes: "Foods" with an 's' because there has been so much eating that if i didn't pluralize food it would all seem one great, 29 day long meal. This whole trip could very well be just that, one great meal, when really, each taste has been such a surprise that it needs to be "foods," as in many different food.

Lets start with breakfast. It sucks in Morocco. It is boring white bread with uber sweet marmalade, margarine-ish spread, instant coffee, and, if you are lucky hard boiled until grey ringed eggs. The pleasant sub: street breads. Take that same boring white bread dough and knead it with butter, pull it flat and fry it on a flat top and you have mssmen--hot, fatty, pleasantly a thin, deep fried waffle...sort of. Somewhat savoury kept plain, they also do well spread with "honey" (pure honey is hard to come by in morocco, and the street stalls carry vats of the less expensive honey and simple syrup blend--stand but oh too true.). Either way they've got nothing on beghir, Moroccos version of a crepe. The batter, though of this dough is left to ferment and bubble, then poured in a thin layer into a pan, and slowly allowed to cook through, without flipping. It is spongy and light, a bit dextrous, a bit tangy, lovely as a mock-honey vessel and a glass of orange juice (something they cannot fake here).  And when you are craving the wholesomeness of oatmeal, there is this barley, i want to say 'pancake' but that is just not quite right,...thing: at once chewily aldente and bound by its own cooked out starchiness. Best enjoyed with a glass of "hot sweet almond milk" from Cafe Clock (we--as in you and me readers, will revisit that place in another post), it was what i would want if i was home in the winter as much as i needed it in rainy Fez. I cut up a melon once--never mind it was the sweetest and most generously fleshy melon disguised as a wrinkled, gourd-esque squash like bit of business, i have ever tasted. So by "once" i meant everyday (4) that we had left in Morocco.

Now in Spain our "breakfast incl" fare was first, in Rhonda, toast (actual toasted bread, instead of just stale day olds), homemade jams, juice, cheese, cured meats, and (thank your God of choice) fruit! And sweet, hot, thick, espresso. Vats of it. Small vats. Espresso sized vats. But vats none the less. I guess it just felt like vats after so many shitty sips of coffee. Then in Malaga, our first fend-for-yourself a.m. feast was a baguette from a panaderia, more cheese, fruit, dried figs, honey, and ripe tomatoes from the market, plus more fine espresso. Eaten on the steps of a theatre close to our riad, in the warm sun, the feast was capped off with two clementines each from a man enroute with his own market basket into his restaurant. What more could you ask for really, than to be given oranges at breakfast time from a man who lived in the country you came to visit just to eat its oranges? Life, and breakfast in Spain, was, is special. The next day was just local goats milk yoghurt and more oranges in order to save room for a paella lunch...we'll talk about that bitter and fruitless search later...Most recently, our hostel in Cadiz offered...wait for it...PANCAKE breakfasts!! And though i could certainly go for four mornings in a row of that business, there were just too many backpackers (and staff) and not enough pancakes so Cindy and i opted most mornings for pastries around town. Her breakfast of choice: glazed doughnut (not 12 cents here, though); mine: pretzled almond palmier. And espresso.

We haven't just had pastries for breakfast. But we have had them every day. And stopped in every pastry store we walk by. Which means more than one pastry every day. The first sweet i had in Marrakesh still sticks with me: the tiny sesame button, so sweet and lemony and fragrant; perfect in size and texture, still, one month later, yet to be surpassed. From the same pastry shop came a lemon tart in my description of such, flawless. A thin, cookie like but delicate crust, and thick, dense, zesty, curd, more italian than french, it was a lovely so long to Marrakesh. Then there were all of the lemony almondy, icing sugary ones, and the flat, surprisingly rose water flavoured beauties, and those triangles that i thought would be all baklava style pistachio filled, but turned out to be dry crummy chocolate (one out of who knows how many, not so bad). Oh my, there were so many little cookies in Morocco, i am having trouble remembering now...but i certainly remember a cake. A piece of cake, really, and yes, it was breakfast. Sunday morning in a road of utter splendour, it was Cindys cake. Right there on the buffet. i cannot believe i have not written about this cake until now in this post. I mean, it was our cake, all olive oily and crumbly with polenta, slightly orangey, such a treat. I thought Cindy might cry, but she's sensitive like that. and really loves pastry. Hence all the stops in the stores... Anyways, gazelle horns. Thats right, the ubiquitous, thinly wrapped, often orange blossom water laced almond paste. They are every where, sometimes dusted with icing sugar, or, like the ones in Tangier, decoratively imprinted with triangled designs. But the best we tasted was homemade by the nanny of a woman we met on the train from Fez to Tangier; the dough was so flaky and it was not overly floral, but sumptuous and soft, just a treat. The cookie fest ends here in Spain with unexpectedly crumbly cinnamon rounds--three times as thick as but only one 16th as buttery as the shortbread they looked to be-- and moves onto more serious pastries with the likes of the breakfasty palmiers, almondy cakelets filled with some sorta "vegetable/plant/fruit" like filling the texture of membrillo but certainly not the flavour, a dense and lemony, icing sugar laden torta, orange flavoured fruit jellies, and a lemon tart that doesn't hold a candle to the one in marrakech, though wins memory points for its being laden nuts of the wal, hazel, pine and almond sorts. I have already picked out my pastry for tomorrows breakfast. I just have to find one for dessert.

I also have to find time tomorrow to tell you about the savoury part of this "foods" topic. And a bit (no, probably a lot) about the "drinks." But for now it has been enough words. For now it is sweet, sesame button dreams.