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Our riad in Marrakech- our little heaven

Flight: We flew in from the USA with Royal Maroc to Casablanca. Flight went smooth, new airplane, movies, and I even got my Gluten free meal ). Landing and checking out was good. Be prepared with an address in Morocco, as you will be asked to provide one at the immigration. We provided the name and town of our first Riad.

Money: Morocco is a cash based economy. Almost everywhere, they would prefer cash, even in some of the riads. The most popular currency are Moroccan Dirhams and Euros. They will also accept US Dollars. An easy calculation to make if you’re from the States, is to divide DH by 10, and that’ll roughly give you a general idea of the price in $. Be prepared with cash. We brought cash in $ and € and changed them into DH every once in a while. In the markets and local restaurants, museums and vendors- you definitely need local currency. They do not like credit cards, but some high end places would accept them- so ask in advance if you know you’re short on cash. Another option is to withdraw money from ATM machines in Morocco, but then you have to find out about the foreign transaction fees, and if it makes sense to you. 

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Munching Prickly Pears in Taroudant’s market. Prepare MD.

After passing airport immigration, after the baggage claim, right before stepping outside the building, we changed some $$ to local Dirhams, enough to get us started.

You’ll be reading a lot about haggling in Morocco, which is very true. Except in museums, restaurants, and riads, prices everywhere else is almost always negotiable (including taxis).

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Market day in the Berber town of Asni

We were welcomed by our driver who waited for us outside.

Car + driver: I was debating whether to rent a car or hire a driver, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. While it maybe more expensive, given all the benefits, the difference in $ is so worth it.

  • We got a spacious car with enough room for all of us, a big trunk to our 5 trolleys and a few more bags, and even a place to charge the phone in the rear (on top of the charger in the front).
  • Landing in the morning after a long flight, and driving almost a whole day to our first destination, would have been hard. Having a driver allowed us to relax, get much needed rest as we were jet-lagged.  
  • We made sure to have an English speaking driver, so he explained stuff, pointed out interesting things along the way, and we were able to ask him questions about Morocco and his life.
  • Our driver communicated with locals when there was a need to find places. He also contacted our Riads ahead of time, letting them know when to expect us.
  • In some places, cars can’t enter the Medina, so the driver took care of dropping us off, parking outside, and of course, he always filled the car with gas (never with us, as to not waste any of our time). So we never paid for gas or parking.
  • It is unfortunate, but on and off the highways, there are lots of policemen, both for security reasons, but also for… money. We have been stopped a few times on different occasions. Our driver needed to produce some papers (I counted 5 different papers), and the officials took their time checking the papers very thoroughly. They also checked and open the emergency kit, checked dates on some of its content. Our driver was very organized and seemed like he knew it was coming, so he got a “pass”. We have met with other travelers, both independent drivers, and those who had a driver. They weren’t so lucky. Police would stop them, threaten to give them a ticket and a fine of 500 DH, or they could choose to give “baksheesh“. At any case, the tourists that had a driver (baksheesh paid by the driver), didn’t pay anything. So we had our peace of mind. Don’t want to scare anyone, and many do choose to rent a car, just reporting on our experience.
  • A driver allowed us flexibility, independence of when, and where to go and stop (to take pictures, for example), and to be spontaneous.

Our great driver was Loutfi, who worked for Jalil Benlabili from Morocco Unplugged. Best to get in touch with Jalil via Whatsapp:  +212 629809359, moroccounplugged@gmail.com.

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A spontaneous stop on the way to Taroudant

Having said all that, our driver was not an authorised tour guide. He may speak English and know things, but he wasn’t allowed to enter the Medina and show us around, but rather wait outside. Also, our driver was a Fez guy, he knew a lot about the northern part of morocco and the desert, and while he knew how to drive to some major places using the highways, it was his first time driving with us to other destinations.

Conclusion: do your homework: once you know your general itinerary, read TA forums, Lonely Planet, travel blogs, and be knowledgeable about your destinations. Also, on your way, interact with locals. Not only is it one of the best things about traveling: learning about the local culture, but also getting good tips about places worth visiting, eateries, etc. Read my posts to find out about the special places we visited, thanks to locals.

Riads: Riads are traditional Moroccan houses with an interior garden or courtyard, that turned hotels. All of the riads we saw and visited (even if we didn’t stay over) were beautiful, and wonderfully designed. I would search on TA/Booking websites some riads, would then look on the map where they’re located, and finally contact the riad by email, to find out prices, and specifications (especially since we needed 2 rooms, was breakfast included, local taxes, do they accept a credit card. etc’).

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Our riad in Essaouira

Getting around: Before leaving to Morocco, I made my family download onto their cells two apps that were very handy: Maps.Me and Google Maps. They’re both a navigating platform that work offline as well. I downloaded maps of the areas where we were going, marked on the maps different points of interest (our Riads, potential restaurants, attractions), and very easily shared those points with my family, so it all transferred to their maps.

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Our driving itinerary

The apps were useful when we entered the Medina to navigate our way inside. Also marked where the driver was waiting for us outside, so it’ll be easy to find him. Finally, sometimes we would split, so we marked a place on the map where we could all meet later. That technology is great!

Also- Unless you speak Moroccan-   French is your next best thing. Almost everyone speaks French. But between a few words in Arabic, a few in French, Google translator, English and body language, we managed just fine. To bargain, you only need to write down numbers 🙂

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Navigating the narrow alleys of Marrakech

Cell Phones: Yeah, don’t forget those 🙂 but also, bring your chargers, and a portable battery. If you travel with a group (aka- 3 young adults), bring more than one battery. We didn’t purchase a sim, but used free WiFi. A good app for communication via wifi, very popular in Morocco, is Whatsapp. I contacted and talked with the riads, and driver, while still in the US, via Whatsapp. There was free WiFi in all of our Riads and many restaurants and cafes. Remember, our driver helped with his phone when there was a need to communicate over the phone

Weather: We visited Morocco during Christmas break, so along the coast it was wonderfully pleasant, and once we got up to the Atlas mountain it was cold. So depending on which area in Morocco you’ll be and the time of year- please check online, and bring suitable clothes. And… sunglasses. Lots of sun.

Responsible Tourism: Responsible tourism means, among other things, to be aware and have meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.  That’s the kind of travel we usually try to conduct. That is why we chose to experience a few activities that allowed us to be exposed to local traditions, away from the beaten path, while supporting locals by spending our $$ with them. This was a win-win.

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I’m accumulator of photos. I’m interested in patterns, shapes, colors, history, and it’s change throughout time. Maybe that’s why I fixate on doors (and knobs, and windows, and floors/roofs, and…).

I’ll let my photos speak.

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This is my favorite. Which one’s yours?

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Ok, not a door. Still love it.

 

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Fellow New Jerseyans and friends, I’m so excited to have finally complete the first phase of a project I have been working on for the past months. Thanks to the amazing volunteer labors of Jeanne Heifetz, Mimi, and Josh from NY, and Jessica Laus from NJ, we now have a new website, to match potential volunteers with non-for-profit org. in NJ, specifically in the areas impacted by the policies of the new administration.We want to protect our democratic, humanistic values, so take a look and share widely. I am updating the site constantly.
https://www.wearenjvalues.org/

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It’s no secret that the essence of the Jewish holidays is food. Yes, it is a big deal. Each holiday has it’s own traditions, rules, restrictions, and expectations. We love to make a fuss and we love to eat.

So Passover is around the corner, and the basic rule is that leavened bread and any product that is fermented or can cause fermentation may not be eaten, including five grains: wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt. Why? because, life is not easy, just as it was not easy for the ancient Israelites who ran away from Egypt, and didn’t have time for gourmet food.

So when I stumbled upon a bag of chickpea flour, I had a eureka moment. What if, what if, what if I can bake a cake with the… hummus flour?! It’ll work for Passover. Well, I decided to explore. I found many recipes for some pancakes, flat breads, veggie burgers, and such. Nope, not satisfying. I need a cake. Based on the interesting fact that I did find– this flour can substitute the use of eggs, I decided to be brave, and try to bake a simple chocolate cake.

chickpea flour chocolate cake

just one slice ???

The reported results of the experiment: three very happy children who loved the cake.

The potential benefits: wheat-free, gluten free, easy to digest, vitamins and minerals = nutritional.

you’ll need:

  • greased 9″ round cake pan. I used the spring-form one.  A square pan will also do.
  • 2 cups chickpea flour;
  • half cup sugar, or if you’d rather keep out of sugar, use Raw honey, or stevia, but feel free to adjust sweeteners according to your sweet tasting buds (most cake recipes call for 1.5 cups of sugar, but we don’t like it that sweet);
  • 1 tsp baking powder;
  • 1 tsp baking soda;
  • 2 Tbsp good quality cocoa powder;
  • 100 gr/3.5 oz of good quality dark chocolate bar (I use 85% and up cocoa);
  • 2/3 cup olive oil;
  • 1.5 cup water.

how-to:

heat oven to 350°f.

combine all dry ingredients together, and mix well.

chocolate cake dry ingredients

pour olive oil and water into the mixed flour, and whisk slowly together, until smooth and all the flour dissolved.

break the chocolate bar into a microwave-safe glass dish, and melt in 20 second time segments, mixing it between each time, until chocolate is uniformly smooth and liquified.

add 1 Tbsp of the batter into the melted chocolate, mix together, and add all melted chocolate back into the batter. mix well together.

mixing chocolate with batter

mixing chocolate with batter

pour the whole mixture onto greased pan, and into the oven it goes for 35 minutes. Don’t expect a high cake, this one’s a shorty.

notes:

  • the kids did recommend, however, to add chocolate chips. since the cake is bit on the drier side, that could be a good advice.
  • when adding the water, you may notice that you need a bit more than 1.5 cups. you want to have a smooth fluidish batter.
  • you may need more than 35 minutes- all depends on your oven.
  • yes- some add ice cream on top, some add frosting. I just like to dunk it in tea. the kids like it as is…

check out my gluten free carrot cake, and gluten free blueberry cake.

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Our back yard buzzes with life. We are fortunate to live so very close to nature, that we hardly need any pictures on our walls. Our windows bring into our home greens and pinks, and during the Fall, it brings those magnificent hues of red and oranges.

We learned to stop. listen. look. cherish the moment.

A few days ago, the very early morning hour summoned a turkey vulture to our yard. It sat on the old basketball post. It sat, and sat. All of the sudden, it drooped it’s scat, and flew away. “Slam, dunk”, shouted my little one. He understands.

nature in our back yard

Little birdie, little birdie, Come and sing me your song/ sung by Pete Seeger

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YES I can

I have not been writing in my blog for quite sometime. I really want to share some nice moments, like our summer in Tuscany, etc. I will, but it’ll take time. Because…

The cold air has been gushing in, almost at once. I can’t postpone it no longer. This week it has to be done.  Revolutionize the closets: bring back those bulky winter clothes, and tuck the summer back into its corner, till next year. 3 kids, 3 wardrobes. one more for the parents. All by the end of this week, otherwise, we’ll all freeze to death. I also need to buy a new fire detector to replace the out-of-order one. And a charger to the computer. And buy a gift to a friend’s birthday party. And start thinking and preparing for Friday’s dinner with friends. We are social, after all. These are just random tasks that change every week.  I know every mom faces those tasks.

Then there’s the everyday, full-time job tasks of every week that don’t change: regular laundries, food shopping, cleaning, cooking.

And the specific jobs we received from our other boss – the school teachers:  projects, exams, homework. No, I don’t do and won’t do my kids’ homework for them. I talk about those projects that I was directly ordered by the teachers to do. You know, the ones about sitting together with our kids and collecting family memories and making a presentation. You know, the one where you receive a letter from school that starts with “Dear Parents…”. And as for exams and homework, I need to be on top of everything and remind, remind and remind, and even lend a helping hand when needed.

The automatic pilot that drives the kids around town to their sports activities, music, friends. That same pilot also stands with a virtual hammer to insist that the kids practice for their music lessons, and at times get into a vocal fight over it.

And the talking, knowing, inquiring the kids about their day in school, their friends. Listening to stories. Reacting.

And then there’s the every-once-in-a-while work to do. The “real” work, for our dear Boa.

Finally, for my own sanity and secluded bubble, there’s that English course I’m taking, where I have to produce 2 formal essays every week, based on research and backed by citations. Books, notebooks, pencils are scattered across the dining table.

I am not complaining. In fact I consider my self very lucky. I am only explaining what every mom already knows. The obvious.

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“Summertime,
And the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’
And the cotton is high..”  by DuBose Heyward.

So I gathered bits and pieces from here and there that I felt I needed to tell the world.

  • Starting with food. Here’s a real quick and tasty recipe of Pattypan summer squashes. I just got them at our local farmers market. They’re not only cute and add color to your dinner table, but also, ahammm, healthy (here). Most of all- they’re yummy !

Pattypan squashes fresh from the market

All there’s to do: Cut them into halves wide-wise. Also cut a thin flat slice at each end, so the half squashes could rest steadily in the baking dish (wide side facing up). Turn oven to 400 F or 200 C. Drizzle olive oil, bit of salt, crushed or chopped garlic and coarsely chopped rosemary on the yellow shining faces of the squashes.

pattypans go into the oven

That’s all folks. Cover with aluminum foil, put in oven for 30 minutes. Take off foil and let them pattypans get some oven tan till they’re golden(ish). Out of the oven and into your plate they go. With some nice green salad on the side. Ahh ha. Oh yeah- don’t over roast them, they don’t like to dry out.

  • more food: Yesterday, on our way to one of the last shows of HAIR in Broadway, a small window on 9th Ave. caught our eyes.  A pile of some fine-looking Bourekas just called us in. The owner, Gazala Halabi, was placing paper-thin rounds of dough on the taboon, which will later become Druze pitas.
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Gazala makes pitas on the taboon

We had wonderful bourekas: one filled with sun dry tomatoes and goat cheese, and the other was with spinach and feta cheese. The kids had a Druze pita wrap (“laffa”) with salad and falafel. The plate was wiped clean off the lamb kabab that was there merely 20 minutes before.

We’ll be there again.  Gazala’s Place

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Druze cuisine @ Gazala Place

  • Staying in the city: restaurants will now need to display the cleanliness rating of their facility according to new letter-grading rules. Now, when deciding upon your next dinner in the City, look on the restaurant’s window. Does it have an “A”, “B” or “C”? Under the new plan, a restaurant receiving an A grade will post it at the end of the inspection. If the grade is lower than an A, the restaurant will not have to post a grade until it has a chance to improve its sanitary conditions. The Health Department will return within a month to conduct a second inspection. The ultimate goal is to improve sanitary conditions and reduce the risk of food-borne illness.
  • Going west: San Francisco is requiring stores to post cellphone radiation levels.  Those rates are the levels at which radio frequencies penetrate body tissue. whether or not there is a connection between cellphones (and their radiation) to cancer, it sure brings the question to the table again, to deserve a serious awareness.

Any thoughts to share?

Fun and healthy summer to us all   🙂

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