Butterfly Pea Flower (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

The butterfly pea flower is an edible flower that’s good for natural blue coloring and anti oxidants.

It can – and should – be used for everything. Tea, salad, cocktails, garnish…

Plus, it’s magical. With a little bit of lime juice it turns from blue to purple. :O Te possibilities are endless!

Cooking class with Benny (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Learned how to make some traditional Thai dishes at Benny’s home cooking in Chiang Mai.

1. Chicken satay (okay, okay, this isn’t Thai)
2. Tom Yum Kung
3. Pad Thai
4. Khao soi (with homemade Curry paste!)
5. Steamed coconut cake
6. Fresh salad

Spicy, herbal, fish sauce bliss 😋

Cooking Class at Amal Women’s Center in Marrakech

Cooking chicken tagine at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

What better way to learn about Moroccan cuisine than to cook it?

Online I found several cooking classes offered, but I went with the Amal Women’s Center because it benefited a nonprofit organization. For 300 dirham ($30), we would learn to cook and later eat a Moroccan meal of chicken tagine, Moroccan salad, and Moroccan mint tea.

The facilities of the Amal Women’s center were beautiful:

Cooking class at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

They had all of the ingredients prepared for us, all we had to do was put it together.Though the chicken tagine involved multiple spices, the recipe is surprisingly easy. Honestly, all we did was chop onions (under pretty close scrutiny, because there were about 4 kitchen helpers for just the three of us in the class) and spoon ingredients in the amounts specified. We were done in about 10 minutes.

Cooking class ingredients at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

We covered our tagines and took them outside to little individual charcoal grills. They had us use bellows to get the fire going – these things are quite effective! A few spurts of air, and you get a little crackling fire.

Cooking chicken tagine at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

The chicken cooked for about an hour or so, with two breaks in between: one to flip the chicken and put the oil in (it goes in later so that the chicken has a chance to absorb the spices), and another to add some more water.

While we waited for the chicken to cook, the staff told us a bit about the women’s center and the work that they do:

Amal Women’s center

The mission of the women’s center is to empower women by training them for and helping them find sustainable employment. Kitchen jobs are the target, a big industry in Marrakech and an easy transition for women as they likely already have cooking experience. For six months, the center trains the women in technical skills and soft skills like punctuality and cleanliness, and then they are responsible for helping the women find a kitchen job after the program. But their main goal is to teach and show the women that they can be independent; they don’t have to be dependent on anyone.

They primarily focus on women from four disadvantaged groups:

  • Single mothers: often ostracized by society and even kicked out by their families for having premarital sex
  • Widows
  • Divorcees: divorce is still not very common, and it is frowned upon. Women legally have the right to get divorced, but few exercise it. And if a man divorces a woman, it means that she was a bad wife.
  • Orphans: receive help from the state until they are 18, but then afterwards they are on their own without much support.

While women in morocco legally have a lot more rights than they did before, culturally and socially, they still face a lot of issues that hold them back. It is undesirable for a woman to seem too independent, and there are problems with education.

There is no sex education, so many women do not even know the basics about their bodies and sex. Some women who already gave birth to children don’t know what it was that made them pregnant – it sounds ludicrous, but if nobody tells you, how do you know? Abortion is also illegal, and some women die because the try to abort the baby themselves. Alternatively, their family might take them out of the country, where they have the baby and leave it there. But some men still abide by the age-old test of checking if the hymen is intact to determine virginity.

Anyway, a very good cause!

And a very good meal:

Cooking chicken tagine at the Amal Women's Center in Marrakech, Morocco

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reproduce the meal on my own, even though I have a recipe list. But I got more than just culinary knowledge from this class. Thank you Amal, and keep doing the good work!

I also learned a neat tidbit: locals serve Moroccan mint tea by lifting the teapot high while pouring, and there are a couple of reasons for this. (1), it cools the tea a bit on its way to the cup. (2) the more sugar there is in the tea, the more foam there will be when you pour the tea up high. Sugar was a precious commodity, so this was a way to demonstrate to guests e was sugar in the tea before they even tasted it.


Chicken and Preserved Lemon Tagine:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tsp ginger powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley and cilantro
1 pinch saffron
1/2 tsp ras el hanut
1/4 preserved lemon pulp
1/2 lemon juice
1 small oninon, finely choped
2 chicken breast and legs
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 handful olives
1/2 preserved lemon peel, thinly sliced
water

Instructions:

  1. Combine all spices into mixing bowl
  2. Place chicken into mixture and coat well
  3. Spread onions evenly in tajine
  4. Place chicken on top of onions
  5. Pour rest of spice mixture over chicken
  6. Cover tajine and place on low heat for 1 hour
  7. After onions have browned, pour oils
  8. After 10 minutes, pour water in tajine up to lid line
  9. Check periodically to add more water to the lid line
  10. 10 minutes before finishing cooking, place olives and lemon peel on top of chicken

Moroccan Salad

Ingredients:

4 tomatoes
1 cucumber
onion to taste
2 tbsp parsley and cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Chop everything
  2. Mix!

The Long PATH to Fishing

Since I moved to NYC at the end of July, I hadn’t really had the chance to leave the City (unless you count commuting to Jersey City everyday for work or the day trip to Edison to pick up the last of my university stuff). So I was super excited about my company’s annual fishing trip out around Sandy Hook Bay on a chartered boat, the Misty Morn!

I went on the same fishing trip last year and had a blast, but there were a few things that I was determined to do differently this year:

  1. Arrive at the designated pick-up spot on time. Last year, when I made my way from SoHo to Jersey City, I didn’t realize that the PATH train’s weekend schedule was one train every half hour. I just missed the train, and as a result spent an excruciating half hour in the World Trade Center station and caused the boat to set sail 45 minutes late. Nobody blamed me, but I swore on the powers that be that I would not repeat the experience.
  2. Catch a keeper. Even though I caught a few flukes (flounders) last year, none of them were the required 17″, so they were all thrown back in the water. But this year I had all the seasonings prepared, so I was counting on bringing a fish home!
  3. Dress appropriately. Last year, I naively wore a white shirt. Shortly after, I decided that it was just about time to get rid of said shirt.

When preparing to make the trek to Harrison to get picked up this year, I drew from the lessons I learned the year prior. First, I actually looked up the PATH schedule online (imagine that, I know), and second, I aimed for the train BEFORE the one that I actually had to take, so that I would have a fall-back just in case. All set.

The morning of, I woke up at 4:30, had a quick hearty breakfast, left the apartment at 5:10, and made it to the 33rd Street PATH station at 5:30, with 10 minutes to spare. All according to plan! Except the 5:40 train never showed up. And then the 6:00 train was delayed by 7 minutes, causing me to miss the 6:31 connection to Harrison (sure, THAT train runs on time). Instead, I had to take the 7:06, which subsequently was delayed for another 10 minutes while we waited for another train to pass. All told, I arrived at 7:25 instead of 6:40. And the boat set sail, again, 40 minutes late.

DAMN IT.

The EXACT situation that I had taken such great pains to avoid. I literally have nightmares of being late – in one vivid dream, I missed a Taekwondo tournament because I took two hours to change into my uniform pants, and in countless dreams, I’ve been delayed on my way to meet people and only get there when everything is over and the everyone is gone. This was a living nightmare, and waking up at 4:30 in the morning (unnecessarily, apparently) didn’t improve the situation.

In any case, we got there, and just like last year, the fishing itself was a blast! Even though I miserably failed my first goal, I did manage to catch three keepers! (and a few that definitely weren’t):

fishing

The mates of the boat that we chartered graciously filleted our fish for us (in addition to helping complete newbies like me unhook our catches and untangle ourselves from each other), but after witnessing a 18″ sea bass reduced to two 4.5″ flaps of meat, I decided to take my catches (two sea bass and one porgy) home whole to clean and treat them myself.

I had, however, definitely underestimated the difficulty and general unpleasantness of a two-hour ride on the subways with a sack of fresh fish. Even though I stole some ice from the coolers and then triple-bagged the goods, it didn’t take long for fish juice (maybe it could just be melted ice? Nope, unfortunately, very definitely fish juice) to start leaking. On the PATH train, a little puddle of it formed by the bag between my feet, and the juice flowed out in all directions as the train moved. People threw me alarmed and disgusted looks, but at that point, I was so tired that I had reached a state of transcendence and couldn’t be moved to care. Take THAT, PATH.

For the rest of the ride, though, I found the makeshift solution of taking off my sweater and wrapping it around the bag to soak up all the leakage. It was either that, or dribble fish juice all the way from Hoboken to Manhattan. So there I was, carrying a sack of fish and ice, all wrapped up in a wet sweater. And reeking of fish, to boot. I bet I was everyone’s favorite fellow passenger.

But at least I had this to show for my efforts!

2014-10-18 17.59.53

Three fish, as fresh as can be (perhaps just slightly fresher without the two-hour train ride), and a cold. What with waking up early, enduring two hours of intense stress, and standing in the chilly wind on the boat, my body simply couldn’t keep up.

But what more could you ask for than an (infuriatingly) interesting story and a delicious meal? Still, I might sit the trip out next year…and the rest of the boat would probably thank me for it.