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FALL 2016

A publication of It’s A Winederful Life

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens


am awoken early by the sound of chanting; it is the morning call to prayer. I am afraid to look at the clock lest I become fully awake, but I later learn that this first prayer is conducted when it is just light enough to distinguish between a black thread and a white one. Several days later, we confirm that at this point in the year, the call comes at 5:30am. In this way, the sights, sounds and scents of Morocco assault your senses. It is an exotic destination where you can lose yourself in the unfamiliar culture, yet still feel relatively safe to wander as you seek out new flavors and experiences. During our two week visit, we immersed ourselves in a wide range of activities from seeing the sights and touring the major towns to visiting a hammam, participating in a cooking class and hanging out at the beach. We stayed in local lodging, including a night in a Bedouin tent, and primarily indulged in Moroccan cuisine, served on bright, multi-colored plates at multicoursed meals bursting with the bounty of local fruits and vegetables. Admittedly, a lot of the country feels dirty. You will walk down streets littered with stray cats, feces (both feline and human) and other refuse, only to arrive at the door of a beautiful riad. These large, walled homes boast an internal garden and are an oasis unto themselves from the hustle and bustle of streets, a foreshadowing of the true oases to come in the actual desert. The Islamic culture will pervade like perfume, seeping into your life as you hear the call to prayer five times a day, while you interact with traditionally-clad men and women sporting djellabas and head scarves, all conspiring to make you feel other-worldly. We’re not in Kansas anymore. With effort, you can do the country on your own, taking buses, trains and shared taxis to travel from place to place. Alternately, you can take the easy way out and either join a tour or a hire a private company. Regardless of your choice, the journey is worth it. 

Drink Wisely & Well Š 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens


lthough Casablanca has been immortalized in a movie, we didn’t feel compelled to visit this large city and opted, instead, to spend our first night in the Kingdom’s capital of Rabat. We were picked up from our flight and immediately whisked away to our hotel, about an hour and a half’s drive from the airport.

On the morning of our first full day in the country, we did a quick tour of the top sights: Oudayas Kasbah, the Andalusian Gardens, Hassan Tower and the Mohammed V Mausoleum. As we walked through the kasbah (fortress), we were greeted by blue-washed walls and dozens of feral cats. From the Kasbah’s vantage point, we could view the Hassan Tower in one direction and the seaside in the other. Adjacent to the Oudayas Kasbah, the Andalusian Gardens are nicely manicured and a tranquil place to rest for a few moments before heading onto your next destination. We then proceeded to King Mohammed V’s final resting place, an ornate mausoleum resplendent in its gilt and carvings fit for, well, a king. The complex is also the site of Hassan Tower, which was to have been the largest mosque in Morocco, but was never completed. From there, we headed to Meknes and, beyond that, Fez. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

VoluBIlis: Along the Roman Road


ust north of Meknes are the Roman ruins of Volubilis. This partly excavated site is thought to have been the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mauretania and rounded out the Roman empire on the African continent. Given the location’s agricultural bounty and proximity to the sea (and thus trade routes), the 100-acre city was strategically established in the 3rd century B.C.E.

While some of the ruins were destroyed by an earthquake during the 1800s, much remains intact or has been restored, initially under the French occupation and, more recently, due to the site’s UNESCO– heritage status, which was granted in 1997. Remarkably, many of the delicate mosaics remain undamaged, both in terms of the tiles and their pigmentation. We took a guided tour of the city, which brought its history to life and permitted us to better understand what we were looking at. Not surprisingly, our guide, presumably a devout Muslim, spoke pejoratively of the Romans’ lifestyle, which celebrated vice and eschewed virtue. While not essentially Moroccan in nature, Volubilis is a good example of Roman architecture outside of Rome and offers insight into the Romans’ incredible reach. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

rom the city’s ramparts we peer down and get a panoramic view. Stretched out in front of us, we see the jumble that is the old city, first built in the 8th century; the new old city, which dates to the 13th century; and the “new new” city, the 20th century Nouvelle Ville. The color of Fez is blue as proudly announced by its Bab (gate) Bou Jeloud, which, blue on the outside, welcomes us to the city. The other side is green – the color of Islam – underscoring the city’s connection to Islam’s initial arrival in Morocco. Accordingly, Fez is home to the oldest Koranic school, which was established in 859 and eventually became the first university in Morocco. As a center of learning, the city attracted people from all over and practiced tolerance as it received these visitors from varied cultures to its borders. The labyrinth of streets winds from the high medina to the low medina, with each neighborhood bearing the five major elements: a madrassa (Koranic school); fountain for potable water; hammam for bathing; communal oven for baking; and a mosque for prayer. These narrow corridors twist and turn and seem nearly impossible to master, but somehow we find our way from riad to restaurant, feeling pleased with our accomplishment as we arrive unescorted at Palais Amani. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

About that...HAT


he eleventh doctor of Dr. Who fame was quite a fan of the fez, the cylindrical hat with the tassel. This felt headpiece actually hails from Turkey, but became a political statement as the Sultan encouraged his subjects to don the fez instead of a traditional turban. Seen as a way to remove social rank, the hat style was adopted in a show of solidarity by the citizens of Fez, thus earning this city’s name in the process. While you can still purchase the hats in the souks as a souvenir, in reality, the hats have lost favor and are now only worn by the older generation.

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Ladhidh Indeed! While not as dangerous for your waistline as a trip to Italy, Moroccan cuisine is very tasty. The food is layered with pungent and exotic spices, but there is no heat to this spice, merely intense flavor. Among the most quintessential Moroccan dishes are couscous, tagines and bastilla. Admittedly, we were not served couscous too often on our visit; this grain-based dish is typically served on Friday, the Islamic holy day, and when done right, takes significant time and effort to cook. Tagines, stews that most frequently marry chicken or meat with a variety of vegetables, are cooked on coals in their eponymous earthen pot. The most popular combinations seem to be chicken with preserved lemon and olives or lamb with prunes, apricots and almonds, both of which were quite ladhidh (delicious).

Perhaps the lesser known of the three is the bastilla, which is wrapped in a thin dough (warqa), similar to phyllo. During our cooking class, we made a fish version. The fish or other protein is first cooked and seasoned before being wrapped in individual sheets of dough and then baked to crisp the pastry shell. Other main course dishes include brochettes (grilled kebabs of chicken, lamb or beef) and fish, simply prepared with olive oil and salt.

Nearly every recipe we made in class called for cumin, but knowing that we could easily purchase cumin at home, we opted to purchase a small quantity of ras el hamnout at the market instead. This allpurpose extravaganza of flavor brings together a blend of 26 different spices. Most meals commonly start with a selection of vegetable dishes. In our cooking class, we learned to make zaalouk – an eggplant-based salad – but equally popular were tomato-green pepper salads; cucumber-tomato salads; beet salads and zucchini salads. We also enjoyed harira, a thick tomato-based soup, which frequently sports pasta or noodles, as well as aadiss, a lentil stew. Perhaps even more important to put on the table are bread and olives. For Moroccans, olives are a symbol of happiness and must be served to guests, so as not to inadvertently offend them. Accordingly, a dish of olives was almost always placed in front of us at bars and restaurants before we even ordered. Additionally, bread is truly a staple of the Moroccan diet, with many different kinds of breads made, from spongy pancakes known as bghreer to the ubiquitous, round loaves called khobz. Today, many families still bring their bread to the communal oven for baking, which the children then pick up on their way home from school. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Cooking with Class A hands-on adventure at Café Clock For our “free day” in Fez, we chose to take a cooking class. While Café Clock was recommended to us by our tour company, I did some additional research to make sure that we were satisfied with the selection.

After reviewing the options at other places, we happily booked with Café Clock and were glad that we did. One of the things that sealed the deal was that the class included shopping in the market prior to the food preparation. Some of the other courses we reviewed either charged an additional fee for this activity or simply didn’t include it at all. Certainly, the class itself is important, but we found the stroll through the souk to be equally instructive to our culinary education. Aside from the two of us, we shared the kitchen with a couple from Michigan and quickly agreed to make: Zaalouk, Fish Bistilla and Coconut Macaroons. After selecting the menu, Chef Suad escorted us through the market in search of key ingredients for our meal. As we visited each stall, she provided us with insights into the Moroccan culture as it pertained to food and entertaining. Then, we returned to the restaurant where she soon put us to work peeling garlic, chopping vegetables and otherwise getting our hands dirty. Finally, it was time to taste our dishes with a late lunch, earning an “A” from our teacher and our palates. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens


ne of the highlights of our trip was celebrating our wedding anniversary in the Sahara Desert. We spent the day on the edge of the dunes, their presence tantalizing us with their acres

Dinner was served outside as the initially cloudy ceiling gave way to reveal hundreds of stars, which shone brightly, but paled in comparison to the waxing Gibbous moon.

of sand.

We had the choice of traveling to the campsite via 4 x 4 vehicle or by camel (or, more precisely, dromedary – unlike their Asian counterparts, these creatures only sport one hump). Despite hearing that camels are nasty and slow, we chose the four-legged option. Frankly, when else would we have the chance to ride one?

The meal was lovely with our favorite course being a Berber dish reminiscent of zucchini parmesan. Post dinner, we sat around the bonfire, which threw off welcome heat, and were soon entertained by a group of drummers. The music was energetic and I happily accepted an invite from my new-found, French friend to dance, kicking up sand as we did.

We were driven to the meeting place where we mount- Eventually, we all retired to our tents with the anticipaed our trusty steeds, took the requisite photos and tion of watching the sun rise in the morning. Although headed off into the desert, guided by Ibrahim, a young less showy, it was no less spectacular as the sun poked man with lots of enthusiasm, but limited English. its head above the horizon in the direction of Algeria. As we neared the camp, the sun began to sink in the distance, sending shadows across the dunes and colors across the horizon. Upon arrival, we dismounted and were welcomed with tea, which we sipped quickly in order to turn our attention more fully to the scene unfolding in front of us. When we were satisfied that the light show was over, we allowed them to show us to our tent. This was truly glamping! Our tent housed a sitting area, bed, toilet, sink and shower – all of the creature comforts of home, in a blanketed building in the middle of nowhere.

After a quick breakfast with our Aussie colleagues (much less taxing than trying to speak French in the morning), we were whisked through the dunes where we met some nomads before reconnecting with Hamid for our drive to Skoura, still basking in the glow of our amazing experience. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Palais de la Bahia, top, bottom left and bottom right (Marrakech)


the months leading up to our trip, I sought out books set in Morocco to enhance my knowledge of the country and the culture. My first pick, Moon Over Tangier by Janice Law, took me to Tangier in the 1940s, where her expats negotiated the political tension among the French, British and Moroccan forces in the country, alongside art forgery, spies and international intrigue. A fun read, but, I hope it will not be relevant to our own adventures. Next, I head to modern day Casablanca in Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, where a female tourist has her passport stolen, yet finds liberation in creating a new identity for herself. We will only be in Casablanca for its airport, but I invest in a purse that deters pickpockets with locking zippers, cut-proof straps, RFID-blocking compartments and slash-proof body panels just in case. I am keen to find a book about a place I will actually visit, so Laurie King’s Garment of Shadows is a great discovery. Within its pages, I am plunged into Fez and Marrakech during the early 1920s and am introduced to principals of the Rif Revolt and the French Résident Général of Maroc, M. Lyautey. Her detailed descriptions guide our journey as we make sure to visit the Résident Général’s palace (now Palais de la Bahia) and seek out the astronomical clock mentioned, which we find outside our cooking class at the suitably-named Café Clock.

A last look at fiction before we leave, The Forgiven is Lawrence Osborne’s dark novel, which transports me to the desert for a clash of cultures between a visiting British couple and a traditional Berber family. Once there, his book echoes in my mind as we drive through the area dotted with the fossil sellers that populate the area and figure prominently in his story. While his harsh reality is just that – a story – the region feels even more real to me having been well depicted on the page. 

Bibliography King, Laurie. Garment of Shadows, New York: Bantam Books, 2012.

Law, Janice. Moon Over Tangier. New York: Mysterious Road Integrated Media, 2014. Osborne, Lawrence. The Forgiven, New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2012. Vida, Vendela. The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, New York: Atlantic Books, 2015.

Left: Astronomical Clock (Fez); Center and Right: Fossils (Erfoud)

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Riad Snan 13:

An Oasis in White


espite numerous attempts to select a more creative moniker – only to discover that there was already a riad with that name – the owners of Riad Snan 13 defaulted to the property’s address. Hence, the unsexy, but aptly named hotel, situated at #13 Derb Snan. Of course, with our anniversary date of October 13, it was the perfect address for us! But, while the inn doesn’t boast a more romantic name, it more than makes up for it in its hospitality and sumptuous surroundings. Following the winding derb (lane) around the corner and around again, you arrive at a nondescript door and sign and ring the bell. Upon entry, you walk down the long hallway and are immediately struck by the tranquility of the pared down color scheme. The courtyard’s gleaming white walls had been freshly painted upon our arrival and provided an even more pristine backdrop for the brightly-colored bougainvillea trees that adorn the space. We were quickly ushered to our room – the Selma Suite – but all of the rooms look lovely on the hotel’s website. Outfitted in white from bedroom to bathroom, the room provided a welcome respite at the end of each day’s exploration, while the intricate lanterns that hang from the bathroom’s ceiling cast lace-like shadows on the white-washed walls (treated with marble dust). All in all, it was simply stunning! Moreover, manager Jawad took excellent care of us from a delicious dinner on the rooftop terrace to the lovely breakfasts in the courtyard garden. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

SOUK-cessful Shopping


houts of “Balek! Balek! (Attention! Attention!) beat out behind us as donkey-drawn carts hoist gas tanks and other goods through the crowded streets. We hasten to step aside, dodging tour groups and locals alike, as everyone wanders through the medina. The frenetic markets are teeming with activity with everything from fresh produce and camel meat to fezzes and fountains.

Unlike the Western world, shopping in Morocco mostly takes place in the souks – the traditional markets that are usually found within the walls of the medina (walled city). In smaller towns, the souks are held once or twice a week and provide the opportunity for folks to mix and mingle, gossip and get the news as well as stock up on everyday staples. Generally, each trade has its own section within the souk and Fez, in particular, is intent on preserving its handicrafts. Accordingly, it is repurposing caravanserai (travelers’ inns) as workplaces for the various guilds and certifying the authentic crafters. However, while the pottery co-operative within Fez was originally located within the medina, it has become too large to remain there as it seeks to serve all of the country with mosaics for historic restorations. To accommodate its growing needs, it is now located outside the city. The potters’ apprentices come to the co-op at age 13 to learn a specific task within the complex process and must memorize complicated procedures and designs.

As the first shopping expedition of our trip, we felt compelled to buy from these artisans and selected some ceramic tea cups, adorned with pewter; two egg cups to supplement ones bought on a trip to France; and a decorative tagine (microwave- and dishwasher-, but not oven- safe). The total price was a bit high at $183. Presumably, the pewter embellishment greatly added to the total sum of our purchase, but, it is difficult to feel that they were entirely trustworthy when they charged our credit card in dollars instead of Dirhams without consulting us first (thereby adding a surcharge). Thus, I would counsel caveat emptor should you visit.

The tenturiers –dyers– use natural pigments to create their dyes such as saffron for yellow; cobalt for blue; and indigo for violet. These dyes are applied to wool, cotton and agave “silk” threads, which are then woven on large looms for the creation of scarves, bedspreads and other fabrics. The souks of Marrakech feel less claustrophobic than Fez, but the streets are still a bit of a maze as you mosey from section to section. Here, rugs are more prevalent as are stunning metal-worked lanterns as well as a plethora of cheap souvenirs. Whereas Fez’ souks cater to the locals, the markets of Marrakech are mostly limited to tourists. The latter city is also home to the open air square of Once back in town, we were eager to augment our tea cups with a tea pot. We enlisted the help of our guide for tips on buying the perfect pot. He steered us away from investing in an ornate handetched (and expensive) silver service and instead advised on finding a pewter tea pot with a good weight and an attractive, machine-stamped design. With Naim as our go-between, we found a suitable option for 180 Dh (~$18). If you follow your nose, you are likely to find the tanneries on your own. Here, goat, camel, cow and lambskin hides are treated, dyed and processed where they become poufs, slippers, belts, handbags, jackets and other leather goods. Unlike the wool shorn from live sheep, which is used to create garments, the “dead wool” taken from slaughtered lambs is called sofa in Arabic and is used primarily for stuffing.

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Jemaa El Fna Square where henna artists are eager to paint your hands and musicians vie for your attention. If you are looking for something specific and want to find the highest quality items, it seems that Fez and Marrakech are the best places to source such mementos. If we had been further along in our house renovations at home, I might have made an investment in lighting fixtures at one of the high-end boutiques in the Marrakech medina. However, if your itinerary includes Essaouira, particularly at the end of your stay, it is a good idea to wait to make most of your purchases here. The prices are very reasonable and the market areas are smaller and more manageable. In addition, the region is known for its Thuya wood carvings which are both beautiful and bountiful. Piling up our purchases on our last days, we acquired a gorgeous Thuya tray with inlaid mother of pearl from one of the co-ops (180 Dh/~$18); found a stunning set of ceramic bowls from Safi (a nearby town known for its pottery) (120 Dh/~$12 for 4 bowls); and scooped up some pashmina scarves (50 Dh/ ~$5 each). Of course, as we have discovered from other trips, using these items at home brings such fond memories and joy it is well worth the hassle of buying and schlepping everything home. ď‚™

Drink Wisely & Well Š 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Scenes from the Souks

Drink Wisely & Well Š 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

DATES with Destiny


he landscape remains dry and barren until we arrive in the Ziz Valley. There, as if on cue, the lush, tropical oasis appears, nestled between the steep cliffs eroded away by the river over many centuries. It is here that we meet Tata, our regional guide. He opens his home to us as we share a meal in his garden, finishing off with pomegranates, grapes and quince that were grown right there. Afterwards, he gives us a tour of his property and explains the ins and outs of date production. Interestingly, the palm dates consist of both male and female trees, the latter of which are hand pollinated to ensure that the tree will produce fruit. Each tree takes ten years before it bears fruit, but can live up to 200 years.

Unfortunately, they are also susceptible to drought, desiccation and fungal disease, which must be combatted with flood irrigation, walls to restrict the sand storms and burning the infected trees to prohibit the spread of disease, respectively. As a symbol of good luck, dates are often part of a Moroccan bride’s dowry and are always served at festive occasions and celebrations. There are 40 different kinds of dates that grown in Morocco, but Medjool seem to be the most highly valued. As one of the major agricultural crops of the area, dates are the talk of the town. Nearby Erfoud hosts an international date festival each October in which awards are given out for the best dates. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Make Mine Madfouna


ur day in the desert included a cooking demonstration with a local Berber woman who taught us to make zaalouk (again), carrots and madfouna — which they referred to as Berber Pizza. It is, of course, not pizza, but perhaps rather more like a calzone in that there are two layers of dough, stuffed with marinated meat, spices and hard-boiled eggs and then baked in a clay oven. About 15 minutes later, we were rewarded with a filling and tasty lunch. 

I’m Down with JBT We’re generally independent travelers, but the exotic nature of Morocco and our desire to venture beyond big cities led us to choose a tour company instead of our usual solo travel. A trusted friend had recommended Gate 1 Travel, but we craved privacy for our anniversary adventure. After much careful research and review online, we discovered Journey Beyond Travel (JBT), a company which prides itself on taking its clients “...beyond the destination.” From the very beginning of our interactions with them, it was a pleasure. They listened to our wish list and helped us tailor their basic itinerary to meet our specific desires. They also answered questions and offered advice as our planning continued. As the date of our trip grew closer, we were sent documents detailing the history, climate and culture of Morocco, along with other pertinent information. Four weeks prior to our departure, they followed up with an agenda complete with key phone numbers, addresses and a play by play of each day’s planned activities. As good citizens of Morocco and the world, JBT ensures that they pay their people very well and this was confirmed by their team without any prompting from us. Moreover, they encourage their clients to reduce waste by using reusable water containers and a Steri-pen, rather than cluttering up the landfills with the plastic water bottles. We were happy to oblige. We were in the capable hands (and car) of our driver Hamid Jarrou for our entire visit in Morocco, from the moment he picked us up at the airport as strangers to when we parted as friends two weeks later, heading into the terminal for our flight home. In each major city, an official tour guide was provided and we were very pleased with their choices. In fact, we heard some horror stories from fellow travelers who had either hired unofficial (consequently illegal) or less qualified folks and suffered the consequences. Thanks to: Naim (Abdelaziz Naim) in Fez; Mohamed Tabalqait in Marrakech; and Sahara Desert Regional Coordinator, Abdelkarim Tata, we were well cared for and given great tours of each area. JBT Founder Thomas Hollowell kicked off his career in the Peace Corps and stayed in Morocco after his commitment ended, establishing JBT over ten years ago. He is joined in his efforts by Fazia who serves as co-founder and head coordinator. Although she grew up in Canada and studied in the U.S., she has been living in Morocco for more than 20 years and is presently working on earning certification in Sustainable Tourism Management. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Tea in the Sahara


itting in the garden of our hotel, savoring a cup of mint tea after a long day of driving, suddenly, it hit my husband that we were, in fact, embodying The Police song, “Tea in the Sahara.” Thankfully, while this refreshing beverage was a welcome respite, it was not our last wish as it was for the protagonists of the song. The practice of taking tea in Morocco is a very ingrained part of the culture, but it is interesting because tea not native to Morocco. Rather, the tea — usually green tea— must be imported from China. This Chinese custom has since been borrowed and then adapted to Morocco with its distinct infusion of herbs, most frequently mint. Tea first arrived in Morocco in the 17th century and was initially only used by the elite as its stimulant properties were forbidden by Islam. Gradually, it became accepted by the lower-class and is now widely enjoyed throughout the country. As noted, mint is the most common herb steeped in the hot brew, which is particularly refreshing and cooling on a summer day. However, during cooler weather, Moroccans look to other herbs for their daily cuppa. Upon arrival at each hotel, we were welcomed with a teapot, glasses and an assortment of cookies and were often advised to relax and unwind first before we attended to the business of checking in to our room. It was a lovely ritual and we soon began to incorporate the practice into our daily life as we requested tea upon our return to our room each afternoon. We enjoyed the time to decompress after a busy day of travels, as we checked emails, browsed Facebook and made notes in our journal. It was the perfect pick-me-up before we dressed for dinner and headed out for the evening. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

A French Legacy in the Nouvelle Ville


porting the bright yellow and blue of Ikea (although known here as Majorelle Blue), the Majorelle Gardens are worth the 25-minute walk from the Marrakech medina. Situated in the Nouvelle Ville, the garden was first built by Jacques Majorelle, a French artist who came to Morocco in 1917, was captivated by the country and stayed on, purchasing a palm grove in 1923. His garden was opened to the public as early as 1947, but fell into disrepair upon his death in 1962.

The gardens were rescued from real estate developers by Pierre Bergé and fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1980. The property was restored and Saint Laurent took up residence nearby until his death in 2008. The gardens are now the property of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent and can be visited daily. Built by the French during their occupation of Marrakech, the Nouvelle Ville is also home to various boutiques and restaurants as well as the French-style café, Amandine. After touring the gardens, we stopped in at Amandine for pastries and coffee. While the pastry case tempts you with Napoleons, eclairs and other French delights, the shop also expertly bakes a wide selection of Moroccan cookies. Although we had admittedly skipped right to dessert, we did eventually make our way to La Grand Café de la Poste for a light lunch of a Croque Monsieur sandwich and a glass of rosé. We then started on our long walk home, ready to burn off the calories we had just consumed. All in all, we felt as if we had been somewhat transported to France in the midst of our Moroccan holiday. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Argan, Take me Away Grown in southwest Morocco, the indigenous Argan tree has become highly prized for the oil that can be produced from the tree’s nuts (and, as evident in the photo, it is also much beloved by goats). Available in both culinary and cosmetic formulations, the oil is sold at various cooperatives that dot the road between Marrakech and Essaouira — the area known as the Val d’Argan (Argan Valley). However, it is important to be sure that you are shopping at an actual cooperative and not just a front for savvy businessmen to be certain that your dollars are indeed providing an income for the divorced and widowed wives who work for the co-op. These co-ops are also the best source for hand-harvested, high quality oils as opposed to those made by machine processes.

We relied on the expertise of our driver and visited Assouss Argane where we received a brief overview on the oil’s production. The nuts are harvested in July, whereby the shells must first be removed before the nuts can be ground into a paste and pressed for their oil. After a quick tasting, I determined that I wasn’t a huge fan of the culinary oil (used for dipping similarly to olive oil), but did choose to purchase some rose-scented massage oil and an argan-infused night cream. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens


ulinary hygiene in Morocco differs from that in the U.S. For example, at the food stalls in Jemaa el Fna Square, there is no running water, so plates, cutlery and cups are “washed” in the same single bucket all day long. Similarly, the standards of refrigeration may vary from those to which we are accustomed. Accordingly, it is advisable to steer clear of questionable eateries and to hold off on consuming fish unless you are close by the sea. After numerous tagines of chicken, beef and lamb, we were excited to head to Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, where we were free to indulge in all of the seafood we wanted. Our first stop was the port where we spied colossal spider crabs for sale. Our appetites whetted, we later enjoyed a crab gratin at La Table by Madada at dinner that night. For lunch the next day, we headed to the portside stalls where the freshest fish is on offer and cooked to order. Stall workers hustle you to their tables, but we ignored their pitches and headed directly to Stall #15, having read about it in an article. I have no idea if it is better than the others, but we decided to trust the recommendation. After surveying the selection of fish and shellfish, we chose some langoustines, shrimp, sardines, calamari and red fish. Our choices were then weighed and we were given a price. We could then toss some items back and/or negotiate the price. They supposedly threw in a sea urchin, French fries, a salad and beverage for our 420 Dh (~$42). Admittedly, there is an innate feeling that you are being taken advantage of as a tourist, but who knows for certain; we didn’t get the specific price per weight nor watch as the plate was weighted. I do know that the lobsters, langoustines and shellfish tend to be more expensive per kilo than a simple sea bass or sardine, so perhaps our quoted price was somewhat justified. One couple who sat next to us at the table walked away with a bill for only 160 Dh (~$16), but they shared only a single fish between them. Prices aside, the fish was minimally prepared as appropriate and brought to the table when ready. As we sat there, fish merchants came by hawking their wares to the food stall workers underscoring the freshness of the fare. All in all, enjoying the delectable fish was a fabulous experience and was, perhaps, the best calamari I ever tasted. Truly, there is nothing better than fresh food and other than catching it ourselves while swimming we couldn’t have gotten anything any fresher. Apparently, we had not yet had

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

our fill of fish, so we had Hamid stop for lunch in Oualidia on our way from Essaouira to El Jadida. The town is known for its oysters and also the opportunity to dine al fresco on the beach. In a similar set up to the stalls in Essaouira, fishermen with carts are set up on the sand to prepare a simple, but scrumptious, meal. This time, we opted for a less lavish lunch, going for the obvious oysters, revisiting sardines and picking out two other fish. Hamid graciously negotiated lunch on our behalf, holding the price steady at 270 Dh (~$27), inclusive of salad and tea.

Seated at a picnic table with a perfect view of the water, it was a wonderful last lunch and our fish craving was finally satiated. ď‚™

Shortly before our departure, I coincidentally had the opportunity to taste some Moroccan wines from Ouled Thaleb. While I was impressed with one of the wines, I was less enthusiastic about the other, so I was unsure what to expect as we approached our trip.

Appellation d'Origine Garantie (AOG), which seems to be akin to the EU Protected Geographical Indication level. The first, higher level Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), equivalent to Protected Designation of Origin, was created in 2001. Situated in the Meknes/ Fez area, the AOC of Coteaux de l’Atlas 1er However, with the preponderance of Moroccan Cru is produced by the first chateau estate in wines on the menu, at reasonable prices, we Morocco: Château Roslane. We splashed out embraced the pairing axiom, “What grows toon this red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mergether, goes together,” as well as the more lot and Syrah to enjoy with our Italian cuisine basic premise, “When in Rome…” at Pepe Nero. While our first night in Rabat was alcohol-free, we remedied that with our dinner in Fez where we purchased a lovely half bottle of red at our riad. We continued to taste Moroccan wines throughout our visit and were generally impressed with the wines. Morocco has a long and storied past, which includes being divvied up among France, Spain and the British until its independence in 1956. During France’s occupation, land was planted to wine grapes, which helped to quench the palates of thirsty Frenchmen. After their departure, many of the vineyards were abandoned, but today, the Muslim country still grows grapes and makes wine, although most Moroccans don’t indulge in alcohol. In this regard, Morocco has a complicated relationship with alcohol. As a wine producing nation, they have made peace with it because the religion does not expressly forbid the production of wine, merely the consumption of it. Moreover, as an alumnus of the University of Bordeaux, King Hassan II saw the potential for grape growing in Morocco and invited the French to come make wine in his country during the 1990s. But, there appear to be issues at other levels.

As with the Château Roslane, we generally encountered French grapes, produced as blends, in a style similar to those produced in Southern France. While the majority of production is red, we did find whites and rosés as well. The industry appears to be controlled by four major companies, one of which—Celliers des Meknes — is responsible for 85% of production. We drank wines from Domaine de Sahari and La Ferme Rouge on several occasions, but consciously refrained from ordering any from Domaine de Val d’Argan since we planned to visit the vineyard toward the end of our trip. Situated between Marrakech and Essaouira, the winery was opened in 1995 by Charles Mélia, whose family owns a winery in Châteauneuf-du -Pape. Among its various distinctions, Domaine de Val d’Argan is the only winery in the area, was the first to receive organic certification and is one of the few Moroccan wineries open to the public for tastings. In addition to the vineyards and winery, the property is home to overnight accommodations with a pool and a restaurant.

During the warmer weather, the multi-course luncheon is served poolside. In fact, not only is the view of the pool very inviting, a dip is inBetween our August planning and October arri- cluded with lunch, should you wish to cool off val, several top restaurants in Marrakech had after your meal (just don’t tell your mom that lost their liquor licenses and, although we don’t you didn’t wait the requisite hour before your know the full story, we were told that politiswim). cians with more religious agendas are pushing their power to curb alcohol sales. Consequent- The four-course menu at Domaine de Val d’Arly, there is a disconnect in the country that gan includes a taste of four wines, mostly from could hinder its wine industry; if more restau- the winery’s mid-level Perle line. At the entryrants lose their license, it is likely that the win- level, the wines are called La Gazelle, while the eries will be under pressure to find external Le Val d’Argan blanc, rosé and rouge are the markets for their wines. What actually happens grandes cuvées, topped by the cuvée préstige, remains to be seen, but it raises an interesting Orian. question as the wine quality increases, but its local market potentially shrinks. Guests are welcomed with olives (naturally), argan oil (this is the Val d’Argan – Argan ValRegardless of market issues, vinously, the ley – after all) and house made bread, paired country is broken up into five distinct regions, with the Perle Blanche de Mogador, a refreshwithin which are a total of 14 areas known as ing white.

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

Next came the selection of Moroccan salads with the Perle Rosé de Mogador, proving once again that rosé is a universal partner as it played nicely with the wealth of flavors on the table. The main course was beef brochettes paired with the Perle Noire de Mogador (but a fish dish with their Vin Gris is an option as well). The low tannin red wine was served slightly chilled, a welcome surprise on the hot day. Interestingly, the Val d’Argan Reserve Rosé was poured alongside the daily dessert, which in our case was a fruit tart. However, despite my trepidation, the pairing worked well given the wine’s sufficient residual sugar and the dessert’s limited sweetness. At lunch, we had a chance to meet M. Mélia who was eager to have us taste some barrel samples in the cellar. I was especially taken

with the Mourvèdre, but the Syrah and Marselan were also quite lovely. Earlier, we had tasted the aging whites: a Viognier and a Clairette. We didn’t take formal tasting notes on the various wines (this was a vacation, after all), but were truly taken with the wines. Given M. Mélia’s heritage, the link to France was evident in the wines and we really enjoyed them, so much so that we revisited the Val d’Argan Rosé with dinner that night. Our only disappointment was that they are not currently imported to the U.S.  Other wines tasted during our journey include: * Domaine de Sahari Réserve Rosé, Guerrouane AOG * Domaine de Sahari Réserve Rouge, Guerrouane AOG * La Ferme Rouge, Terres Blanches, Les Côtes de Rommani AOG * La Ferme Rouge, La Petite Ferme Rouge, Zaër AOG * La Ferme Rouge, Terres Rouges, Les Côtes de Rommani AOG * Thalvin Cuvée Du President Vendanges La Main Rosé, Benslimane * Château Roslane Les Coteaux de L’Atlas Premier Cru

Once a nomad, always a nomad? In what was a glaring illustration between the haves and have nots, we were given the chance to explore the dunes during our time in the desert. The 4 x 4 sped by a military installation (we were close to the Algerian border), with its herd of dromedaries, before we stopped to meet a nomadic woman and her son. We were briefly introduced and then shown around her camp — a sleeping tent (pictured) and a clay hut that served as her kitchen. A small solar panel affixed to the roof of the hut powered her apartment-sized fridge. As I understood it, the woman lives alone with her five children, having been divorced by her husband. I asked our guide whether she homeschooled the kids and was advised that they would sometimes visit the school in the village, with the unspoken implication that such visits were few and far between. I wondered about the kinds of opportunities that might exist for these children when they grow up and if being born into a nomadic family was a self-perpetuating life. 

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens



ooking back on our vacation, there were many exciting moments that punctuated our trip. Recalling these memories permits us to digest the experience more fully and enhance our enjoyment even further.

Rooftop Bar at Palais Amani

As we were getting ready to go to dinner, hubby Googled the restaurant in an attempt to determine which of his two nicer outfits to wear and came across a blog extolling the virtues of Palais Amani’s rooftop bar. While we already had dinner reservations for that night, we had no idea that it had a rooftop bar at all, let alone one of such repute. We sped up our preparations and arrived 30 minutes in advance of our reservation with the aim of enjoying an aperitif before dinner. We were not disappointed. Upon arrival, the staff happily opened up the rooftop for us, where we slowly sipped our cocktails as the sun set over the Fez Breakfasts with Pizazz skyline; an absolutely perfect start to our Everyday, we were warmly greeted at the evening at Palais Amani. breakfast table with beautiful Moroccan

an added bonus, there were several wild dogs hanging out as well, including an adorable pup.

Rock the Kasbah and Ksar

Other memorable meals included dinners at Dar Roumana (Fez), Pepe Nero (Marrakech) and La Table by Madada (Essaouira).

Centered near the town of Skoura, the Valley of the Kasbahs offered numerous opportunities to see well restored southern Morocco architecture with its kasbahs (single-family fortresses) and ksars (walled cites). We stopped first at Taorirt Kasbah in Ouarzazate, where we wandered from room to room discovering beautiful mosaics and painted woodwork. pottery. With boldly decorated dishes for honey, various jams, sugar and other condiments, along with equally inviting plates and cups, each morning’s meal was a welcome awakening.

Monkeying Around

As we left Fez, we headed south and east on route to the desert. We drove through the mountainous town of Ifrane, known as Little Switzerland and resembling the Swiss Alps sufficiently to earn its nickname. A short while later, Hamid asked if we’d like to stop and we almost declined (not needing to use the rest room), until he promises us monkeys. We parked on the side of the road, crossed it and were greeted by a troop of Barbary Apes. As

An hour or so later, we arrived at UNESCO World Heritage site, Ait Ben Haddou Ksar, an impr essive place perched high on a hill, providing its previous inhabitants with a good vantage point in the event of intruders. The backdrop for many movies, we felt as if we were on a studio’s set. Here, we learned about the technique of painting with saffron pigment and then exposing the “invisible ink” to flame to darken and reveal the image, a process used in the past to send secret messages from one tribe to another.

Seeing Stars The lantern in our suite at Riad Snan 13 (see article A n Oasis in White) created the most amazing designs on the bathroom walls. It was simply stunning to see how such a light fixture could transform a room so completely.

Sunsets in Skoura We spent two nights at Les Jardins de Skoura, a lovely hotel with lushly landscaped gardens, pool, roof decks and restaurant, owned by French-expat Caroline. During the day, we took a tour with a local guide, walking through the palm grove where we were able to see flood irrigation practices in action and learn more about the resident flora and fauna, as Caroline’s cute pup tagged along. After a restorative lunch in the garden, we spent the day reading and relaxing, but made sure to rouse ourselves in time to watch the sunsets from the terrace, while indulging in a kir.

Thanks for the Granaries Just outside the town of Meknes is the Heri Souani Granary, the royal granaries of Moulay Ismail, which were built to store enough feed to withstand a 20-year siege. Beyond the indoor storage facilities are the remains of the royal stables, which were capable of housing 1,200 horses.

Olive You

As noted in Ladhidh Indeed, in Moroccan culture, olives are a symbol of happiness. At each meal, we were welcomed with bread and olives, setting the stage for the food that would soon grace our table.

our remarkable trip was filled with happiness as we celebrated our wedding anniversary in a distant land that had once seemed so foreign and now, after two weeks of living in and breathing the Moroccan air, felt more like a home away from home. We had been welcomed by so many people who showed us their country and shared their way of life with us. No longer a mirage, the magic of Morocco was real and we will be forever grateful for its warmth and hospitality. 

Similarly, as we walked through the various markets, bountiful bowls of olives tempted us and brought a smile to our faces. Like these consistent appearances of olives,

Drink Wisely & Well © 2016 by Tracy Ellen Kamens

All content and images, copyright Š 2016 Tracy Ellen Kamens. All rights reserved. | contactme (at)

Drinking Wisely & Well: Moroccan Magic  

Travel coverage of Morocco, including Fez, Marrakech, Rabat, Essaouira, and the desert, along with Moroccan wine and cuisine.

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