Savouring exotic Morocco

I am posting this week’s column while on vacation in Morocco, so I thought I’d take you along with me for a taste of the place.

Even if you’re not a foodie like me, it’s hard not to be drawn in to Morocco’s cacophony of colours and flavours.

The markets are the heart of every community and they are full of vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables and juices, dried fruits and nuts, herbs and spices, or even meat.

On our first day here we left our riad (the Arabic word for a garden residence) to follow the winding alleys in the Medina and discover the market. It’s a maze of brick dotted with intricately carved wooden doors and windows with iron grates.

This is the world of Aladdin and genies, and the mystical history of the region is palpable in the air.

The Medina is made up of souks, areas that sell a particular range of goods such as spices or leather or jewelry. Mixed in are tiny cafes and street vendors that sell anything you can imagine.

Every 10 minutes or so, the minuscule alleys bustling with people and Vespas and donkey carts spill out into a square where one might find a bit of music being played or a street cart set up, selling fresh-pressed orange juice for for dirhams a glass (about 50 cents Canadian) or pomegranate juice for 10 dirhams ($1.30 Cdn).

As we wandered along, I was enticed by the aromas of bins of dried rose petals and cinnamon bark and fennel seeds, the sight of mountains of fresh mint and pyramids of citrus fruits, and the sounds of musicians playing enchanting local tunes on exotic instruments.

The buzz of the scooters and braying of donkeys completed the urban symphony.

We stopped for lunch at a beautiful cafe hidden down a side alley that opened into a huge courtyard with giant palm trees and a fountain in the centre.

We sat on cushions in the corner of an alcove with windows carved like lace, and ate tabouleh and local creamy goat cheese with mint and couscous flecked with herbs, all on a beautiful brass table.

I drank Orangina, and my hubby had a Coke - wine and beer are rare here, since this is a mostly Moslem country. The fresh vibrant flavours of the dishes seemed to echo the intensity of the environment.

You can’t help, but immerse yourself here.

That night we went to Jemma El Fna square, the main market square in the Medina.

By day, it holds vendors selling more of what one sees in the souks, but by 5 p.m., it transforms into a plethora of compact dinner spots cooking up fresh shellfish or meat, along with spiced tea vendors and pastry stalls.

They don’t believe you if you say you’re full — the idea seems to be one of indulgence, to match the general overwhelming nature of the place.

As we strolled back with full tummies to our riad under the light of the moon and the lacy brass lanterns hanging throughout the souk, the snake charmers’ music carried me along with it, almost as if I was on a magic carpet ride.

It was no wonder I dreamt of monkeys and exotic birds and genies granting wishes.


Don't be a ghost on Sunday

Giving thanks for good manners

I heard something on a radio talk show this week about a “bail culture” that exists today.

It’s not about people in the court system, it’s about people who don’t fully commit to attending an event and “bail” on the host.

With one of the year’s popular holidays fast approaching, please consider this post a friendly reminder. You should be sure to confirm your attendance, or not, if you’ve been fortunate enough to be invited for dinner.  

Apparently, this phenomenon of not deciding whether to show up when you get an invitation is also called ghosting.

Younger generations have coined the term, and tend to be the ones experiencing this behaviour, either as hosts or as the ones not there. 

As much as it can be fun to have people over (or plan a party such as a wedding or other big occasion), it’s a great deal of work. It takes time and money and attention to many details.

Those efforts deserve to be appreciated and respected, not neglected and ignored. 

I realize the art of sending handwritten notes as a thank you after attending a party is a dying one, something from days gone by. But even a casual gathering deserves our serious attention.

I have heard the reasoning that people don’t want to disappoint the host and so they don’t say no, even when they don’t seriously intend to go.

I think I would be more disappointed if someone told me they would come and then “ghosted” my party.

But, enough about not showing up. Thanksgiving is about celebrating together, so let’s get on to that. 

How about what to do if you do show up? Good manners represent your respect for the importance of the occasion and the relationships you have with those you share those memories.

  • How does one behave at a formal dinner party?
  • Do you know what to do with all that cutlery around your plate?
  • Or perhaps you’re wondering how to set the table if you’re hosting for the first time. 

Here are my top tips for making sure you don’t have to feel awkward at the table.

If you’re setting the table...

you need napkins, knives, forks, spoons, and glassware for each guest. The knife and spoon go on the right of the plate, and the fork goes on the left. The glass goes at the top right of the plate. Napkins can go in an empty glass, folded or with a napkin ring on a plate, even draped under the plate if you like. If you want to use bread plates, they go to the left.

Once you sit at your place around the table...

your napkin can go in your lap. Use it to wipe your mouth as needed. (And when you are done eating, it doesn’t need to hide those turnips you didn’t want to eat. You can put it beside your plate if you want to move it.) Your phone should be off the table too. If you need to keep it on your person, put it in silent mode. 

Take note:

if the dish in front of you looks a bit too fancy to be a plate, it might be a charger (a fancy sort of liner for your plate.) It is not for putting food on, it’s just for decoration. The plates will be brought out later or may be at a buffet. The diners on either side of you are not for decoration; it is your responsibility to engage with them to make the most of the event.

When there is more than one type of cutlery around your plate,...

Just remember to use the one on the outside (furthest from the plate) first, working your way to the inside with each new course. Cutlery at the top of your plate is for dessert. If you want to remember how to use your soup spoon, here’s a great old ditty: “As a ship goes out to sea, my spoon it sails away from me.”

Then, if you spill, it’s on the table, not in your lap.

When you are engaged in a course...

your elbows should be off the table. It is OK to prop your elbows on the table between courses — even Emily Post, the famous etiquette guru, said so in the 1920s.

When you are finished...

place your cutlery together in a parallel fashion on your plate. (If you place them on opposite sides in a crossed pattern, this is the symbol for “I’m taking a break, don’t take my plate away yet.”)

While some of this is finer stuff that you think you may never use, it will undoubtedly come in handy someday. You will impress your host and probably help another guest by setting a good example, just as we often do in life in awkward situations. 

And that is why I wrote about something as stuffy as table manners for Thanksgiving.

Show your gratitude in everything you do, even how you behave when you are invited out. It represents your respect for your fellow human beings, and for the food you are sharing.

If we start with the basics, we have a solid foundation for a happy society.

Stealing food definitions

Today’s world is a polarized one.

In so many situations, so many contexts, we are expected to pick a side. We may not even know much about the subject matter, but we feel compelled to choose a position.

This week, I’m going to offer my two cents on a subject that is dear to me. I’m going a bit long today, but I hope you’ll bear with me; it’s for a good cause.

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against anyone with a different philosophy than mine. If you have a rationale to offer, I’d like to hear it.

Although this is a bit of a rant, much of my desire to share is an effort to start a conversation. I believe the best way to get away from all this polarization is to understand the whole story from all sides.

You’ve heard of cultural appropriation? It is defined as the adoption of elements of a certain culture by another culture, often one that has a more dominant position or has oppressed that certain culture through history.

It differs from cultural exchange or appreciation, where there is generally a mutual respect and understanding of the culture’s history.

My concern is not about culture per se, but rather food. My beef, if you’ll pardon the pun, is with the new terms being bandied about for new kinds of food that bear no resemblance to the original food with the same name.

How is it OK for a substance created in a lab from plants to be called meat?

I understand the desire to find foods that are as sustainable as possible, supporting the health of our planet. But does a food that requires 19 different processes really seem like something better for you than an ingredient our species has been consuming for thousands of years?

Is it truly more sustainable?

Why do producers of spreads or pastes made with nuts or soy want to call their products “cheese”? (or “cheez” – I’m sorry, but bad spelling doesn’t get you off the hook in my book)

Cheese is a dairy product, with an established history of how it is produced. So much tradition is involved in many cases that the names of certain cheeses are protected by the regions in the world where they originate.

They are cultural ingredients, not just food.

Milk has become another engineered food category. In the dairy case at your local grocery store you will find products that come from cows and goats as one might expect. You’ll also find products made from rice, nuts, soy and perhaps even oats.

I think it’s important to be clear here: you can’t milk an almond or a soybean, and these are not flavours of milk like chocolate or strawberry. Why aren’t they called juice; doesn’t “almond juice” sound more authentic?

Appropriation is perhaps too strong a word here, but the lack of respect for the original word’s definition is my focus.

Not only is it confusing for consumers to have variations of products that are so completely different, I also think it’s plain old lazy for marketers to decide they will just use established terms even when they could be misleading.

These new engineered foods are altered to create the same texture, taste and even nutritional value of the original. Non-dairy beverages that compare themselves to milk may have emulsifiers, sweeteners and other additives. Many of them are fortified to increase the nutritional value.

Vegan versions of ground meat use plant-based proteins that require processing, which negates their raw food benefits. Some of them contain up to 400 mg of sodium.

I realize people have different tastes and want a range of options for their diet. What I would like to see is more distinction between the engineered alternatives and the simple, one ingredient original.

Instead of lumping all the beverages together in the dairy case, why not create a section that makes it clear what is non-dairy? Just as the meat section distinguishes between beef and pork and chicken, why not be clear and have a section marked vegan?

And for any marketing people out there, think of this: when a new version of a baking product was released, they didn’t call it a new kind of butter – they called it margarine. Why can’t you come up with another name for these new foods too?

I want to leave you with one big thought: perhaps the issue here is not about how plant-based products avoid the impact the current unsustainable methods of the mass market farm.

The same unsustainable methods are used with almonds (just ask the bees how they like being shipped around in February to pollinate almond trees). And I’ve seen commercial vegetable fields blanketed with trimmings that are left behind because consumers want nicer looking, more uniform food.

We need to change our general attitude to how we grow food. Sustainability is the key practice we need to enforce, and that will make it less convenient for us in some cases.

But success in the long term is not about taking the easy way out. We need to work together and focus on the big picture to make sure we find a total solution for maintaining our food, and culture.


Toadstools and fairies

Has anyone else noticed how many mushrooms are out there these days? 

With all this rain, they are popping up everywhere. I could swear I’ve heard sounds in the night too, like the fairies are partying up a storm – perhaps literally.

It is said that fairies dancing in their circles at night is what causes those rings of mushrooms we see in the grass. Autumn is a magical season.

It takes me a while to get over the end of summer, but eventually I get the hang of it. Once one resigns oneself to the cool, crisp days of the season, the beauty of its experiences reveals itself.

I love the smell of fairy dust early in the morning, and the light that seems to come from inside the pears waiting to be picked out of the trees. The best part though, is eating the food of fall. 

Mushrooms are fun to spot in the grass, but they are even more fun to sample on the plate. I have been a fan of these umami-rich morsels forever; even as a kid I loved mushrooms in shepherd’s pie and spaghetti sauce.

But they are good for so much more. 

I know everyone is not a fan, between the spongy texture and earthy flavour. I could try to make my case by channelling the magic of the fairies, but I realize this doesn’t change the taste.

In that case you could just admire their shapes.

 We recently attended a dinner that was all about mushrooms – wild mushrooms. There were fungi of all shapes and sizes on the table and in the dishes prepared. The Fungus Farm in Summerland grows 14 different varieties of gourmet mushrooms on their farm, and they partnered with three chefs to host a long table dinner.

This was a feast like no other, with all manner of local fare from local farms as well as seafood brought by the coastal chef who was there. 

I don’t know if it was the magic of the season, but these guys were amazingly creative.

  • They pickled mushrooms.
  • They combined mushrooms with marinated octopus in a pie.
  • Mushrooms were added to sauce and stuffing.

They had even made a wood-fired oven in the shape of a mushroom, using it to make mushroom pizzas and roast mushrooms with potatoes and other root vegetables.

The grand finale was a dessert that featured white pumpkin and chanterelle custard, coffee and pine mushroom mousse and an almond and porcini macaron on top. It was delicious and beautiful.

Now, everyone isn’t a crazy foodie like me, and we can’t always get out to an event to enjoy gourmet food. But if you’re a fan of mushrooms among your fall flavours, you can stop at the booth of a forager at one of the farmer’s markets and chat with them.

Scott Moran is usually at the Kelowna farmer’s market, and Brian Callow from What the Fungus is often at the market in Penticton. 

I will make a firm statement here:

Do NOT pick any wild mushrooms unless you have learned about them and know well what kind you are picking.

Many of them are delicious, but there are tens of thousands of kinds out there.

Some just taste bad; others will make you sick and some can cause violent reactions. Especially if you are in the forest with children, be careful.

One of the poisonous mushrooms is the red-capped toadstool with white spots you often see in fairy tale illustrations – amanita muscaria can make you quite ill if eaten raw.

Today, the annual Mushroom Festival is on at Sandhill Winery in Kelowna. Tickets are available at the door if you’re reading this on the day – maybe I’ll see you there.

If you’re someone who only likes to look at mushrooms, you could tag along to the festival and sample the wine, or perhaps you’d rather just wander the fields and watch for fairies.

Either way, you can still be touched by the magic of the season. 

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories