Best Mother’s Day Gifts and an Invitation

Photo from Airbnb.com

My grandmother, Mama Sargeant, was the Matriarch of Mom’s family and the Queen of Regifting. She asked us not to give her gifts and truly meant it. We learned that when we didn’t listen, gifts we bought ended up in her upstairs bedroom–unopened. When we needed to buy a gift for someone, she’d send us upstairs to choose from her collection.

What she really wanted was us at her table weekly for Sunday lunch and surprise visits any (ok, every) day of the week. As a mom myself, I don’t want things from my adult children. I want experiences. Time with them sharing something that we love.

When my friend Sally said she and her daughter were designing their own espadrilles in Barcelona and suggested we do Airbnb experiences for our birthdays this year, I was thrilled! On mine, we made limoncello on the Amalfi Coast with tour guide Rosa (my next podcast guest). Sally was in Virginia. I was in Nashville, and two couples Zoomed in from Canada. On Sally’s birthday we will learn about spiced wines in Naples from archaeologist Raffaele.

Now there’s a way we can give our mothers the world. We can meet interesting people around the globe–the hosts who share their gifts and homes with us–and other participants.

Where has Mom always wanted to go? What does she like to do? Does she love animalsmusic, dancing, or other artshistory and cultureyoga…fitnesscooking or wine tasting? SO MANY CHOICES. Here’s just a few things I’d like to do. ..

Below are just a few of the Airbnb online experiences that look fun to me. There are SO MANY more.

Spice It Up with Dancing Indian Chef

Fresh Pasta with Two Sicilian Farmers

Authentic Apple Crepe with a French Chef

Feed the Soul with Kat’s Yoga Brunch Club

Cook Spanish Paella with a Top Chef

Irish History, Village, Culture, and Craic

Wine Tasting in France

New Zealand Wine and Travel Experience

Cocktails Masterclass with UK Champion

GINspiration Cocktails at Home

Discover the Secrets of Sancerre Wine

And if you’re looking for a way to bond beyond one experience on one day, I have more unique ideas… they are in this month’s newsletter along with suggestions for summer entertaining, travel planning, and other May fun.

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Global Recipes and Music for Lockdown Comfort Food and Escape

First and foremost, I pray for those fighting the Coronavirus around the world, families grieving loved ones, and all feeling global angst and loss. I pray for protection for those on the front lines, like my daughter and sister in patient care, first responders, and grocery store employees who are caring and kind. I pray for wisdom for researchers seeking a vaccine, leaders around the world, all of us facing something so frightening, evasive, new. 

COVID-19 has stolen income. It has postponed or cancelled lifelong dreams. Instead of graduation and milestone birthday celebrations with families…  honeymoon dinners in piazzas…  spring break escapes overlooking azure seas, we are on lockdown–many in solitary seclusion– practicing  social distancing. We never dreamed going to the grocery (for those of us able) would be our only “getaway” where we hold our breath, swerve to miss other shoppers, and shake our heads at empty shelves.

We need to cook and stay in. Meal planning needs to be strategic so when we brave the store we can get in and get out. But when we can’t find our default foods we’re too overwhelmed with all that is swirling around us to be creative. Sometimes we’re too distracted and tired to even think.

March 2020 proved a 19th century proverb wrong–the one that says if the month comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. Tornados ripped through Nashville March 3 and made global headline news. Since then COVID-19 has ravaged much of the US and the world.

I started the month trying three times to outrun the outbreak. When my travel blogging conference in Sicily was cancelled last minute (thankfully, given the crisis that hit full force a week later),  I considered using my connecting flight to New York City and spending spring break there. When the Coronavirus was reported there, I booked a flight to Florida but canceled within 24 hours because they were being hit, too.  For most of us, there’s nowhere else to run and home is the only place to hide.

But we’re also learning that being grounded can be grounding.

The university classes I teach have gone remote for the rest of the year, and with no more commuting, I have more time and technology to be in touch with those I love.  I’ve traveled via books and movies which I suggested here, and I’ve discovered some new music that sweeps me away.

I’ve remembered teaching English in a small village in Italy one summer and my own childhood where families ate hot lunches together in the middle of the day. I’ve been cooking more and through food, music, and memories returning to some of my favorite places.  It started when I cancelled birthday reservations at an Irish pub and made my first corned beef brisket at home. 

Below are ways to make cooking an adventure, meal planning easier, and eating more fun. I’ve  included links for delivery for those who can’t get out/ feel safer not doing so, such as moms with children in tow.

First, make a space to breathe, a nook for relaxing and enjoying what you cook.

For almost three weeks I’ve gone nowhere except to buy groceries and my birthday present–  plants for my patio — knowing it would become my home office and world.  Spring rains have made everything I see Ireland-green grass and pink blooming trees. As the bulbs push through soil in Italy-blue pots around me, and the natural world comes back to life again, I’m reminded daily to trust God who sees what I can’t… knows what I don’t. 

But this I do know. Neighbors I’d never seen before have come out of their homes. They are walking and playing as families six-feet away. They smile, wave, and nod at Ella (my yellow lab mix) and me. The world–once a blur of motion– has slowed down for many and the value of health, relationships, connection has come sharper into focus. 

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These are some recipes I’ve made during lockdown. I’ve also included cooking playlists–  links from Spotify and Amazon Prime Music members can stream for free. 

Several of these ingredients are used in more than one dish. I shop multiple groceries–especially now when some shelves are bare–but have linked to Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh organic products for health and convenience. Those with Amazon Prime can get groceries delivered free–important to many during self-quarantine but also a reason why they may be out of some of these products periodically and locations/terms of delivery may change. 

Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from an Amazon link in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost but helps a bit to keep this blog going.

One more thing…I’m also a big believer in improvisation. While living in Morocco without a car and some ingredients I needed for recipes, I learned to substitute or do without. When I wanted to make clam chowder, one of my go-to comfort foods, I couldn’t find clams. No worries–I used shrimp which were plentiful and inexpensive. Thankfully my grandmother taught me that cooking isn’t an exact science. It’s “a little of this, a little of that.” 

With the right music while cooking… a dance in the kitchen… and a pretty place setting (pun intended), we can exhale calm. We can taste escape… and hope.

Switzerland

Playlist: Music to wake you up and want to dance on Amazon

My first trip to Europe was with my students in the early 90s, a Grand Tour of England, France, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.  Standing on my balcony in the Swiss Alps between snow-capped peaks and Lake Lucerne, I drew in a long breath of cool, clean air to the jingle of cowbells.  I wondered later as I climbed under the crisp, white down duvet if I’d stay warm enough–it was so lightweight!–but I did and have slept under nothing since. I met the group in the regal dining room the next morning where sunlight streamed through large windows spotlighting a sumptuous spread.  We’d been told we’d have only “continental breakfasts” on our tour so not to expect eggs, bacon and biscuits, staples in the southern US. In London we’d had dinner rolls every morning, in Paris croissants served with butter and jam. But in Switzerland at a hotel/hospitality training school, waiters in white served fresh fruit, marmalade, and plates of delicious cheeses and cold meats– sausages, salami, hams. It was the beginning of a love affair I still have with charcuterie served anytime of day. 

Breakfast (Zmorge, Swiss German for “in the morning”)

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Spain

Spanish Guitar and Pablo Segovia Gardel on Amazon Music and Soundtrack of Vicky Cristina Barcelona on Spotify  

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Above: Sangria with lunch here

If you have shifted to a later sleeping/waking schedule, you can imagine you are in Spain. There breakfast starts around 10 AM, lunch at 2 PM, tapas (appetizers) and drinks late afternoon/early evening, and dinner at 10 PM. I love the food culture, climate, people from Vigo to Madrid , across Andalusia and Catalonia … everything about Spain

Tapas and Sangria

Using items above on another night, make a charcuterie board for a light dinner.  Add nuts, like Marcona almonds, olives, hot peppers and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Cut brussel sprouts in half and place on a roasting pan.  Sprinkle with minced garlic (3-4 cloves), salt, and paprika, then drizzle with olive oil. Back at 400 degrees about 20 minutes or until tender. Pair. with Spanish wine or sangria (recipe below).

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

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Italian variation added: prosciutto and cantaloupe

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Sangria in Barcelona

Red Sangria (our family favorite for summer and Christmas, too)

Ingredients

  • Bottle of Red wine (Spanish wine recommended but I’ve used merlot or cabs, too)
  • Orange and Mango Juice
  • 1/4. cup of brandy
  • Dash of club soda
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • And if you like, throw in a few strawberries, blackberries, and a dash of cinnamon, too.

Morocco

Playlist: Morocco, Traditional Music Around the World and Berber Musicians of Morocco on Spotify

In Morocco, I taught at the American School of Marrakesh which had no cafeteria. Students’ hot lunches were delivered by drivers or they packed cold ones as I did. All produce was organic and sold in the grocery markets, hanuts (Moroccan form of minute markets) and on fruit and vegetable carts. Fresh produce  coupled with having no car and walking everywhere made me feel more fit than ever. Lunches were salads and clementines ( peeled and eaten like candy or sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon). Oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and mint for tea (or for expats, mojitos 🙂 were available year-round. 

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Clementines

I no longer make coffee on the stovetop in an expresso maker, but I have still squeezed oranges for fresh juice since living in Marrakesh. I use an older model of this Juiceman (see photo below).

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Acima in Marrakesh

Salads

(Left) Strawberries in season, avocado, and balsamic vinegar

(Right) Sliced Tomatoes, Green Peppers, and Cucumbers with Vinegar and Olive Oil. 

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Olives

These guys are ubiquitous in Morocco, found in bowls on restaurant tables beside loaves of bread. At school, the elementary teachers loved the shade of the olive trees at recess but had to keep watch over students tempted to pelt each other with olives. I’ve thought a lot lately about a  Thanksgiving spent at Peacock Pavillions when Maryam Montague decorated the table with olive branches, symbols of simplicity and peace. She spoke about another global crisis–that of refugees and displaced people groups.

Moroccan Tagine

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A tagine is a traditional dish named for the the clay pot in which vegetables, fruits, and meats are cooked on a stovetop or open fire. It is loved for its savory-sweetness in modest homes, restaurants, and palaces  throughout the country. I ate lamb, chicken, and vegetarian tagines with friends from Marrakesh  (where our  favorite waiter at Chez Joel and favorite manager at Riad Mur Akush uncovered the dish with ceremonious flair) to the Sahara desert gathered on the ground family-style in a Berber tent. 

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While living in Marrakesh I made only one tagine because my housekeeper, Sayida, made the dish for me often.  I did enjoy the lesson at the La Maison Arabe Cooking School, and when a former student and friend visited me, they enjoyed learning from the ladies at the Amal Center. Last week I craved comfort, so I made my first tagine unsupervised. Sayida would probably roll her eyes at me with a grin, but I spiced it up and loved it.

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Tagine at the Amal Center

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Sayida always made me enough couscous and tagine to last me a week.

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Sayida and I had already said goodbye when I heard the doorbell ring. She surprised me with a parting gift and a mischievous smile–the same grin I’d get for making a crockpot tagine.

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My first unsupervised Moroccan tagine

Ingredients:

*Optional: 

  • Add lamb, beef or chicken. I used 2 chicken breasts, skin removed cut into square pieces
  • Serve over Couscous –made on stovetop or in microwave

Spray or rub lightly the inside of the crockpot with olive oil. Layer vegetables in the bottom of the crockpot. Place meat (optional) and prunes on top. Mix seasonings with garlic, tomato paste, and broth, then pour over all. 

The best couscous I’ve ever had was at Riad Hikaya. Making it like they do is on my Cooking Bucket List.

Italy 

Playlist: French and Italian Cooking Music (one of my favorites of all time) on Sptofiy

Tuscany

The first recipe below I learned in a cooking class with Chef Paulette who just published The Easy Italian Cookbook: 100 Quick and Authentic Recipes. I’ve been a fan of hers and of Italy for decades. Sicily would have been my ninth trip. When lockdown is lifted, if you are anywhere near Nashville, take one of her classes.

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Anchovy Butter (with slight variations–I used gluten-free pasta, added shrimp and red pepper flakes, and halved original recipe.)

Boil the pasta. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in hot, melted butter and oil in a saute pan.  Cook for 2 minutes and add 2 Tablespoons of pasta water. Add tomatoes and cook until they pop. Drain pasta and mix with other ingredients in a saute pan. Add shrimp and red pepper flakes (if desired) and parsley until all is heated through. 

*For another easy, super-fast pasta dish, mix a jar of pesto and 8 ounces of pasta. Eat hot or cold.

Tuscan White Bean Soup (for those last rainy spring days)

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1/2 onion minced 
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots diced
  • 5 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans white or cannellini beans
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • Pepper to taste (or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you want more heat)
  • Improv: add a cup of chopped baby spinach, 4 ounces of diced pancetta or bacon , splash of white wine

Heat 1 T olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion until soft for about 2 minutes. Add carrots and celery, then garlic. Add a splash of wine if desired. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, and stock. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender (about 10- 15 minutes). 

France 

French Playlists by Charles AznavourJacqueline Taieb, Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf,  stream free on Amazon Prime

Coq au Riesling

Coq au Riesling has been a “Cooking for Company” dish since 2013 when I posted about it.  It was created by Nigel Slater –check out other delicious dishes on his website (and yes, he is English, not French)–and was reprinted on the Simply Delicious blog . I’ve changed measurements below to US equivalents, and rather than use parsley, I use rosemary and thyme. I’ve often used Sauvignon Blanc rather than Riesling because I’m more likely to have it on hand.

  • 2 ounces butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 4 bacon/pancetta sliced into thin strips (I dice.)
  • 4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 8 chicken pieces on the bone (thighs or drumsticks)
  • 8 ounces portabella mushrooms sliced
  • 500 ml (⅔ of bottle) Riesling or dry white wine of your choice
  • 8 ounces cream (heavy or half and half)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • handful chopped parsley (I use rosemary and thyme instead.)
  1. Melt the butter and oil together in a large pan.
  2. Brown the chicken pieces all over and remove from the pan.
  3. Add the onions and bacon and allow to fry until the onions are soft and translucent and the bacon has rendered its fat.
  4. Add the garlic and allow to saute for another 30 seconds before removing the mixture from the pan (leaving the fat behind).
  5. Add the mushrooms and allow to fry for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the onion and bacon mixture along with the browned chicken back to the pan.
  7. Pour in the wine and allow to come up to a boil. Turn down the heat and cover. Allow to simmer for 15-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  8. After 15 minutes, uncover, turn up the heat and add the cream. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
  9. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste.
  10. Serve with rice, pasta or crusty bread.

If the only recipe or ritual you take from this post is to peel an orange and let its juicy goodness run down your wrist while sitting  in a spot of sunlight… mission accomplished. From Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who inspired me to make the leap and live abroad… a word on the art of cooking and eating from her Eat, Pray, Love

There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich…

I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of the asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn’t need to be cooked at all). I put some olives on the plate, too, and the four knobs of goat cheese I’d picked up yesterday from the formaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon. For dessert—a lovely peach, which the woman at the market had given to me for free and which was still warm from the Roman sunlight. For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule.

And as Easter, time of rebirth, nears, my prayer for us all is…

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!–Romans 15:13

Vineyards in Montepulciano waiting with Italy and the world for spring to finally come

Madrid Food and History Tour a Must-Do

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Madrid is a proud city—from colossal buildings of monumental magnificence to curious culinary corners where locals gather. While living in The Dominican Republic, I quickly noticed the neighborhood’s most precious food imports were from Spain, sangria was sipped in cafes daily, and the local families I knew traveled to the Mothership often—a rite of passage of a hallowed heritage. 

Though I’ve enjoyed eating in Madrid on previous solo trips, this time I went with the pros—Devour Madrid —and am so glad I did. As promised, on the Tapas, Taverns, & History Tour I learned more about the capital’s history, ate my weight in four family-run- century-old tapas bars, and walked and talked it off with an amazing guide, Eduardo Munoz, and some very nice people. 

At 6:30 we met at Plaza de la Villa– Medieval landmark/former seat of Madrid’s city government and site of The Casa de Cisneros, built in 1537 by the nephew of Cardinal Cisneros, advisor to Queen Isabel. By the time we parted four hours later, I’d met new friends—a couple from Arizona, another from outside London, a mom and son from North Carolina, and a woman from Washington, DC who also enjoys solo travel.  

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At our first stop, we enjoyed jamón ibérico de bellota and cured meats from several Spanish regions.  As a southern girl who lived two years in Morocco with almost no pork available,  I was in “country ham” heaven. We also enjoyed cava (similar to France’s Champagne) and award-winning organic olive oils.

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We each had to try drinking wine the traditional way. The no-spill secret was to pour into the mouth without hesitation, then extend the arm fully to allow a steady stream.

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On we walked to the Royal Palace (above) and Plaza Mayor (below).

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In the Plaza de Oriente is a statue of D.Pelayo Rei D Astu, leader of the Christian kingdom called Asturias. He is credited for starting the Reconquista which saved the Iberian peninsula from the Moors.

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The sign of a good tavern–literally–is daily specials on the chalkboard rather than laminated posted photos of food.

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Here we enjoyed Tosca Cerrada Palomino Fino en Rama 2016 made from grapes of Cadiz region of Spain stored in barrels which give it the flavor of sherry. Different and delicious.

 

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No food tour would be complete without giving The Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, its due. On another trip to Madrid I made an evening here (more on that later).

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We also passed this popular Irish pub in Madrid.

Next stop was Meson del Champinon, a local institution where the stuffed mushrooms and pimentos (grilled peppers) are legendary. The sangria was excellent as well.

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Our final stop, a boutique hotel and bar in a building dating to the 14th century, was my favorite part of the evening. Eduardo said here we’d relax and talk over more food and wine. He added:

“Wine is like people. You have to give it time to express. It is about feelings. The older the wine the longer it takes to know it. It is more complex.”  He added we get to know each other over good wine. Certainly over our four hours together we enjoyed cultural and personal exchange.

We discussed the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The Londoners said the princes marrying brides they met at university makes the monarchy more accessible. With big smiles and protective pride they added: “They lost their mother and the country loves them. It’s exciting!” We also revised our Bucket Lists based on suggestions of members of the group. I asked them about Sark, an island in the southwestern English Channel off the coast of Normandy which is reached by ferry and traveled by horse-drawn carriages because cars are not allowed. A friend says we should visit. They said they have been there and often travel to nearby Guernsey. By night’s end we discussed pros, cons, and principles on topics as varied as Uber vs Taxi, Hotel vs AirBnB and grocery dairy vs milkman delivery.

I was first drawn to Europe years ago by not only what was served on the table but by what transpires at table. Lingering over food, wine, and thoughtful perspectives makes my heart as full as my stomach. As we all parted, Eduardo gave us a curated city guide to navigate the rest of our stay, and when I return to the “real world” and face hard challenges or circumstances, I’ll remember his words: “Poor soil makes the best wine. The roots have to go deeper which makes it richer.”

 

Thanks to Devour Madrid for the tour. As always the opinions here are my own.

Knoxville & Smoky Mountains: Great Escape and Journey Home

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Though I am writing this on a Dominican Republic beach a couple of hours from Santo Domingo where I’ll return to work on Tuesday, I’m reliving the mountain escape I had while home for the holidays.  I’m sorry I missed the snow in Tennessee that arrived just after I flew back to the Caribbean on Wednesday, but  I am glad my son and I had clear roads for a trip to the Smoky Mountains while I was there.  Cole moved to Knoxville last summer and with each visit I understand more why he likes the city where he chose to work.  Nashville’s growth spurt since I’ve been gone has frustrated natives and longtime transplants with the high rise apartments and traffic chaos that came with it.  Knoxville feels much like Nashville did before the boom and with the bonus of Gatlinburg one hour away and The Biltmore two (which we plan to see next summer when the gardens are in bloom), it’s a great destination for more than Vols fans.

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View of Smokies in the Distance from my son’s area of Knoxville

Tennessee is a hiking and wildlife lover’s paradise.   My first morning there while drinking coffee and looking out my son’s sliding doors I saw the usual–a cardinal, squirrels chasing each other–and then something moving in the brush behind his apartment that looked like a bobcat but larger.  Then there were two of them.   I grabbed my camera to zoom in and started snapping; while focusing and scanning the second creature disappeared.

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Whether they were both coyotes (a growing problem in suburban Nashville as well), coywolves or one was a deer that took off like the roadrunner I am not sure, but one of these guys stayed and stared  me down.  The sighting seemed another sign that 2017 will be full of surprises.

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Thrilled to be home for the holidays for the first time in two years, I had wanted to rent a cabin in the Smokies for our family, but with the recent fires we weren’t sure how much of the area had been destroyed and which roads would be closed. Instead we drove to Cade’s Cove and stopped for lunch at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, a hot spot for locals and tourists. We saw no fire damage and given the line of cars, neon lights, and ticket sales the Pigeon Forge “strip” was still going strong.

The good news about southern food is the comfort.  The better news is there are gorgeous opportunities to hike it off.  Living two years in the desert and the last six months in the tropics, I had so missed journeys amidst farmhouses hidden in hills; cows and horses in fields; and cold, crisp air on moss-covered banks beside mountain streams.  My questions about the future, usually rushing like water over rocks, are hushed and stilled by a winter forest.

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Applewoods was packed with people and home cooking.  I couldn’t decide between fried chicken, chicken pot pie, and chicken and dumplings so had all three.  The apple fritters with apple butter below…wow.

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Beaver Dam

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Later in the week Taylor drove up and joined us for some amazing Italian food and a day in downtown Knoxville at Market Square.  I highly recommend Altruda’s for an authentic, family-owned atmosphere and The French Market for a quick trip to Paris.

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Reviews raved about the family-sized salad and garlic rolls–well deserved praise.

 

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The ziti is amazing.

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So many choices

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The Crepe Suzette may have been my favourite treat over a holiday full of scrumptious food.

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Taylor liked the chocolate crepe and hot chocolate as well, but Cole waited for our next stop, brunch at Tupelo Honey’s.

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Macarons to go

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For the blueberry jam and biscuits (or the joy of being with my grown kids below)…no words are adequate.

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We took a quick walk around Market Square where there are many Sunday brunch places, unique shops, an ice skating ring, and history.

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It was New Year’s Eve day so most were indoors waiting for the big party that night.

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As we took a shortcut to our car, we happened upon an alley of street art.  Again, it seems, technicolor surprises are just around the corner this year.

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We saw Arrival, nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Cole had already seen it and thought I’d like it. He was right.  Among other vital truths, it stresses that we can’t survive without communication and global collaboration.

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Knoxville sunset

As I felt when the holidays were over with my children in London and as most moms feel when the world goes back to work and “reality,”  (and though I am forever grateful for the beauty and adventure of the time spent abroad), nothing brings me joy like relationship.  Translated: quality time spent with my kids/family.  I loved Marrakesh, but it was too far from them.  The Dominican Republic, though many hours closer, is as well.   They are grown and have lives of their own, but my heart longs to see them more often.   We are bonded across miles  by blood and years, vacation times spent together, technology and our love for one another.  And we’ve learned, or at least I have, that home is what we are to each other–not one place.  Good to know since Taylor is in Nashville and Cole is in Knoxville now.  (Likewise, my sis is in Nashville but mom is in Kentucky.)   And though I’ve learned “home” is wherever I am at peace with God, as a southerner I feel tied to place, to roots, to people–my people–my kids, family, and closest friends.  And so my journey back has begun.  I look forward this year to following the path God charts to my dream destination.

 

Chef Paulette: Renaissance Woman, Artist, Authority on All- Things- Italian

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Nine trips to Italy and I’ve just planned the next one.  This year I spent New Year’s Eve in Venice, my birthday in Tuscany (below), and Easter in Rome, but I’m asking Santa for an extended holiday in the land I love.

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The Girls in Tuscany

Thanks to Chef Paulette‘s just-released book,  Italian Cooking Party, this tour will last for years to come with 100 of her recipes, tips on how to stock an Italian kitchen, and secrets to throwing Italian parties anywhere.  Details of how to order her book are here; and if in Nashville, you can purchase copies for the cooks in your life in time for Christmas at Parnassus Books.

Many know Chef Paulette from Channel 4 WSMV’s More at Midday and Today in Nashville (see her making Walnut and Chocolate Biscotti below) and have traveled with her to Italy. Or they’ve seen her perform with Duane in Duette.  Upcoming shows in Music City are January 1, 2017 at Brown’s Diner and January 6 at The Frist Center.  I met Paulette many years ago in one of her cooking classes in her Bellevue home.  As Diana Krall crooned, the chef who had migrated from New York City from the kitchens of Mario Batali and Micol Negrin and learned from cooks in six regions of Italy impressed me with her signature recipes and soulful teaching. I knew we were kindred spirits when she sat with strangers as if family, lingering over the meal the class prepared.  Her home soothed, transporting me to summers spent with Italian friends in Piedmont. Students left warmed by the wine and conversation.

Multiple cooking classes and a friendship later, I’m still drawn, wherever we meet over dinner, to her heaping hospitality  and wisdom cultivated at her parents’ table. She laughs: “I always want to sit at table longer than anyone else. I don’t want to clear the dishes but keep hanging. I grew up in that. Mom would do the dishes but I sat listening to my dad. Dad was a philosopher. I remember crying at his philosophical life stuff.   Coffee and cake would come and we’d still be sitting there.”

Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the  Soul, advises:   “Make a conscious effort to surround yourself with positive, nourishing, and uplifting people–people who believe in you, encourage you to go after your dreams, and applaud your victories.” Paulette is what southerners call “good people.” I asked her once if she ‘s a romantic. She said she takes chances and is generally optimistic–good traits for a time when nothing globally or personally seems certain.

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This year the decision to sell our family home of 21 years was one of the hardest of my life. Leaving Morocco was difficult, too, although I wanted to be nearer family.  Last February I had no idea when the house would sell nor where I’d end up working or living.  When I told her my concerns, she wrote: “Isn’t that great? All sounds great — even the leap into you-don’t-know-where back home. Sorry about your house but maybe that was the only way for you to move from it and into this newer part of your life. I’m so glad Morocco was wonderful for you — (how could it not I guess!)…but what a way to evolve and find more of yourself.”  

That’s Paulette Licitra, the consummate Renaissance Woman.  Her story is the Portrait of an Artist who never stops growing, learning and laughing.  A lady who reminds me that challenge brings change… reinvention…and despite growing pains it’s a good thing.

The Brooklyn-born Italian-American wrote novels and plays produced in New York City. When she won the Phoenix Theater’s national playwriting contest, her hip my heart premiered in Indianapolis, receiving nods for its multicultural casting and a “haunting ballad” she wrote.  She also boosted women’s literacy rates in Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco with an Arabic version of The Electric Company while writing and producing for Nickelodeon and Children’s Television Workshop.

By September 2001 Paulette  was on top of the world…literally. Perpetually peaking, she had climbed through a Costa Rican cloud forest on an Earthwatch Expedition to study the mating dance of the long-tailed manakin. Bound for the Northern Cape on a Norwegian cargo ship, she’d crossed the Arctic Circle prowling for Atlantic puffins.  Trusted with national treasures in over twenty states, she had researched and recorded audio scripts and podcasts for land, sea and air: the Sky Tour at the John Hancock Observatory, Royal Caribbean cruises, the New York Botanical Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pearl Harbor, and the CN Tower Observatory in Toronto.  Her expertise earned her the job of writing the audio script for a tour atop Tower Two of the World Trade Center, what would be “the tallest rooftop terrace on the planet.” In her New York Times piece, “The Tour That Never Was,” she later lamented: “I spent a few weeks haunting the observation deck, looking out the windows, spacing out the tour stops and figuring out how to direct a visitor’s gaze… (they) were setting up the kiosks that would hold the headsets when the attacks came.”

After the tragedy of 9/11, tourism tanked so Paulette Licitra decided in her 50s to become a chef and worked in New York kitchens alongside Mario Batali, Micol Negrin, and with cooks from six regions of Italy. Re-charting her professional course, she became Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning Alimentum and moved to Nashville.   She also reunited with a high school friend. After graduation they had gone to Woodstock together as purely platonic buddies. After years of living separate lives, they met again and something shifted.  The intensity of this Duette is clear on and off stage. She showed me once the prophetic photos used by Joel Makower in his Woodstock: The Oral History of the soulmates’ teen faces peering at the camera from the crowd.

Juliette Child said, “Life is the proper binge.”  A journalist, novelist, playwright and painter…chef, singer, tour guide and candlestick maker….  Paulette inspires me.  I asked her about the courage it took to live the life of an artist–something I’ve always longed to do.  To have the freedom to focus on creative projects–to make one’s own schedule–to give your first love first place until it’s time to return to an old love or try something new.  She said:

“I was ALWAYS attracted to the road less traveled. The idea of a suburban life in a house with a husband and 2.5 children made me squirm a little. Somehow I think I was always afraid that my brain and spirit would be lulled to sleep and all my creativity would be silenced. Probably not true, but the idea pushed me in another direction.

From a little girl I wanted to be a dancer. In high school I wanted to an actor. In college I wanted to be a writer. All the things I’ve wanted to do—the things that compelled me forward– were always endeavours that didn’t make money unless you were a star and involved a big population that was trying to do the same. I really think an artistic life is like a calling. It comes from inside. You can try to ignore it but it is very insistent. And if you leave yourself open to listening and following its call then you’re always off the beaten path. Some people have to ignore it because of commitments. There’s a great book about women who have had to do this: Tillie Olsen’s Silences. I was always so afraid of being silenced, of not getting my visions made into something out there…and still…I feel like I really haven’t done it yet! SO many stories and ideas still jam my head constantly.”

She said career highlights were interviewing survivors for the Holocaust Museum tour in Houston. There was also the day Israeli and Jordanian producers were in the NY studios together. Paulette smiled and said, “It was fine. I remember thinking, ‘You see. It doesn’t have to be the way it is. Everyone is into creating great stuff for kids.'” She recalls making a video for choreographer Loretta Thomas: “We shot on the streets of NY for 24 hours straight. At 3 AM Martin Scorsese pulled up to his apartment in a limo in Tribeca. We made eye contact and he smiled!”

Christmas is a great time to thank those who call us to taste la dolce vita.  The new year is a great time to host others at our table and celebrate the good together.   Her book offers more than amazing Italian cuisine.  It offers soul food meant to be shared.

*Chef Paulette’s winter cooking classes are sold out.  However, you can buy friends gift certificates or contact her for information for the spring classes starting in March here.

Chef Paulette on Channel 4 making her Walnut Chocolate Biscotti 

Pat’s Palo for a Front Row Seat to the Real Santo Domingo

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Like I said, Santo Domingo takes salsa seriously from Sunday night dancing-in-the-street in the Old Town to Saturday night shaking-in-the-courtyard in the New City.  According to health experts and dance studios, such as Arthur Murray, salsa and merengue burn an average of 400 calories per hour.  Good to know for those who love the pulled pork sandwiches vendors sell at Las Ruinas and the best ribs I’ve ever had at my favourite restaurant in The Colonial Zone just down the street.

Since the days my cousins and I gathered after church at my grandparents’ house for dinner (SouthernSpeak for lunch), I’ve loved a big Sunday meal.  Though I don’t recommended eating the huge portions at Pat’s Palo just before trying to shake it like Shakira, I highly  recommend this spot for Sundays and any day of the week.  An institution with locals, indoors is cave-cool and outdoors the patio overlooks The Alcázar de Colón, Diego Columbus’ home.  There’s also a great playlist, live music, and PIRATES for waiters (who doesn’t love Jack Sparrow and other pirates of the Caribbean???)  Though I support Piantini, my local ‘hood, this is one of the two must-eat places in Santo Domingo (the other being Adrian Tropical).  Here you get fabulous food,  a fun atmosphere, and a front row seat to the authentic Santo Domingo old and new.

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On the plaza

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Pat’s Palo from SouthernGirlGoneGlobal on Vimeo.

 

Piantini Pleasures…Good Eats in Santo Domingo

We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.–David Mamet

I am not a glutton.  I am an explorer of food.–Erma Bombeck

Santo Domingo has surprised me with its wealth of food choices– from mega groceries full of imports to familiar chains and international cuisine.  While many coworkers have cooks and cars,  I have neither, so I try to do a big grocery trip on Saturday or Sunday  as I did in Morocco to make  comfort food–cold salads for lunches and seafood chowder, chilli, Irish beef stew, or jambalaya for dinners–to last the work week. But come the weekend (or sooner when I miss my deck and grill so much I have to find a place to sit, sip, and socialize outdoors), I head up the street in my Piantini neighborhood to an area that after four months here finally feels like home.

Sweet Spot: La Cuchara De Madera

Two blocks from the apartment–dangerously close for sugar overload– is a bakery/brunch/tapas/coffee destination.  A coworker took me to La Cuchara De Madera (The Wooden Spoon) last August promising it “feels like visiting a friend’s house.”  She was right.   On a second visit, I met the owner’s father who gave me a tour.  I have always loved baking, but in the heat (only the bedrooms are air-conditioned) up until the last month turning  on the oven was done on a must-do basis. Knowing cheesecakes and cherry pies are just around the corner is a lovely thing. To locals, La Cuchara is Birthday Cake Central, cozy quarters for a late breakfast, battery recharge station for afternoon coffee, and  gathering spot for evening wine and tapas.

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Taylor and I noticed after first moving here the long lines anytime of the day at the mall for Krispy Kreme, but we fell for this place–especially the Nutella Frozen Cappuccinos.

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Cheese, ham, and chicken croques and empanaditos are popular here. So are bolitos and mini burritos.

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How I love a cherry pie

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The Volcano is their signature dessert–a Santo Domingo legend.

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The pages-long sweet list  includes churros, bagels, muffins, cheesecakes, and ice cream. img_3274 Also on the menu are tea sandwiches, beer, wine, and breakfast.  Above is the typical Domincan breakfast–eggs, fried cheese, grilled ham, and Mangú de Guineos (green plantains cooked with onion and olive oil). They also serve omelets, crepes, pancakes, and waffles and tea sandwiches. 

Piantini Patios: Bravo Forna, Maria Bonita, City Market

A couple of blocks beyond are three patios illuminated by twinkling lights and friends’ laughter.

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Bravo Forna offers Italian dishes, fresh salads (Insalata de Pollo Santa Fe below is my fav), fantastic sangria and great music in a relaxed setting.

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Taylor’s chocolate mousse was amazing.

Next door is Maria Bonita with gourmet Mexican dishes, seafood, and  grilled beef and lamb.  The service here is five-star from friendly and attentive waiters who make solo diners feel welcome.  In fact, the staff allows locals to camp out on laptops here and I’ll never forget the kindness of the  chef who, after I’d had a bout of illness and decided to brave solid food again, made me  plain grilled chicken and rice–not on the menu.

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Just beyond is City Market, a  small grocery with fresh produce and a popular deli of cheeses and meats.   Packed into their few aisles are imported foods and wines.   Here locals  gather for lunch or after work for sandwiches and salads.   I stop in here as often as my family did at the minute market just around the corner from where I grew up.

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Some nights there are free samples of food and wine.  My favourite find, the bees’ knees, is this local honey (miel in Spanish and French) which ties for the best-I’ve ever-tasted at La Maison Arabe’s cooking school.  I love it in my coffee.

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On the Grill

Another place I’ve enjoyed my weekly fix of grilled steak is Sonoma Bistro–always full of locals.  They have a deli and wines, cheeses, and Angus beef in the market next door.  But of course the ultimate treat is meat on a grill surrounded by friends under the stars.  For a cookout on our friend’s rooftop terrace, we bought some ribs and Italian sausages at Sonoma and turned them over to our friend, Master Chef Moises.  Between the meat, the view, and Dharma’s hospitality (and potato recipe) it was the perfect night.

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Moises Cordero now caters for Destination Weddings at Punta Cana, Samana and beyond (for catering, call  829-944-1521), but when I first moved here he was the man behind the grill at Shorthorn at Galeria 360 just past Agora Mall–both within walking distance of my street brimming with beautiful (though out-of-my-budget) boutiques.  Below are photos of our feast there last summer with Steve, Sana, Taylor and Mariya, our friend and coworker who is marrying Moises in January.

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Moises also took us to his friend’s seafood restaurant next door, Pier 47 , which was delicious and and just around the corner from the mall’s Margaritaville.

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Cafe Culture

Recently I took Griselda’s advice (below) and checked out Ciao–a great place in our neighborhood not only for healthy soups, wraps, and salads but also a great American-style burger.  And around the corner just before Blue Mall is a popular trio of restaurants where folks frequent for food and drinks at 2 for 1 prices–Francesco Trattoria, La Posta Bar, Julietta Brasserie (beautiful indoors and out).

Everyone here has been gearing up for Christmas since trees sprouted all over town November 1.  It’s almost 11 PM here and outside my window speakers have started blaring from a party in the courtyard next door.  Think I’ll check it out…salsa music calling…

(Added the next morning…So The Who may still hold the title for the World’s Loudest Band by the Guinness Book of World Records for a 1976 concert,  but the DJ under my window  until 4 AM last night blasted that record with speakers we used to call “mind-blowers” (this from a girl whose hearing was maimed by bands like Aerosmith, YES, and Pink Floyd back in the day).  The good news is the rooster that crowed from the same apartment building starting at 4 AM hasn’t been heard since Thanksgiving.)

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Must Do in Marrakech: La Maison Arabe Cooking Class

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La Maison Arabe Cooking Class

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.—Maya Angelou

We are great believers that if you have peace, you have everything.

                       —Wafaa Amagui, La Maison Arabe Marrakech

Excitement swells as two enormous doors slowly swing open. I remember entering this haven of hospitality the previous fall when I first saw La Maison Arabe Country Club.

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But this time I’ll be the one in the kitchen, and I can’t wait.

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Our van journeys along the long lane lined with olive trees until the driver brakes. We follow the path through a green garden of palm trees swaying to a convivial choir of birds soaring, sitting, and singing. A bouquet of herbal heaven on the breeze—the scent of rose geraniums, rosemary, sage, and lemon thyme– beckons us to pinch, rub, and smell the distinct fragrances of each plant. Gracious and gregarious, Wafaa, La Maison Arabe’s Cooking Workshops Manager, greets us as we take our seats around the tented table.

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Organic artichokes

Wafaa explains the power of food as the product and source of cultural connections: “Food is for humanity. We can live together. We are more alike than different in food tasting.”

She asks each classmate where we call home. Illustrating her point, we reply: “London… Lisbon…Ontario…Boston…. Colorado…Tennessee… Kentucky.” (It was the first time I’d met anyone from my birth state of Kentucky since moving to Morocco.)

She then says the best food is multicultural and is made from fine ingredients and a great civilization. Moroccan food, derived from Berber, Jewish, Arabic, and Spanish influences, gives us a taste of how diversity can create unity.   With pride she recounts the mission of La Maison Arabe as Ambassador of Peace and of Morocco’s history of respect for their own culture and that of others.

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Pit for roasting meat

La Maison Arabe, the first restaurant in Marrakech, was started in 1946 by a French mother and daughter, Helene Sebillon and Suzy Larochette.

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At a time when the country was very conservative, Wafaa says, “These two brave women really opened the door for all women in Morocco.” Here Winston Churchill, Jackie Kennedy, and Charles De Gaulle dined often.

In 1995 Italian Prince Fabrizio Ruspoli bought the restaurant and after three years of renovation opened La Maison Arabe as the first boutique hotel in Marrakech.

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I had been to La Maison Arabe before as well, but before the van arrived to take guests to the class held at the Country Club outside of town, I enjoyed seeing the hotel again, beautifully beaming in the morning light.

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Breakfast Buffet

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Wafaa said opening the first hotel in the medina dispelled fears of the foreign as guests lived among locals:

The idea was a real adventure. .. Being inside the medina next to local people day and night seeing how people live…the smell of food… children playing all the time, women who run between work at job and work in house, men all the time in cafes gives people outside an opportunity to ask questions and to know a lot about Morocco’s style of life.

This first riad hotel led to thousands more, transforming Marrakech into a popular tourist destination which employed many and enhanced cross-cultural understanding:

People from outside Morocco see Moroccan people.   We have families.  We are very protective of our children. And we have this respect…. Moroccans are very tolerant, flexible people. You don’t feel isolated. People are ready to serve, to help, even to practice language.   Whatever language you are speaking, we are very eager to speak it with you.

As is Moroccan tradition, we were served mint tea with bread, which we helped bake, honey, and jam.

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Moroccans, unless diabetic, drink tea with a lot of sugar. It comes in large blocks and is broken into chunks.

Into the kitchen…  (Photos by Jasna Finlay)

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Ayoda, the Dada (Chef)

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For the base of the Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives, my favorite meat dish in Morocco

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For the Zalouk, my favorite dish of the day, we “zebraed” the eggplant and cooked with  tomato, garlic, and fresh herbs.

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Two hands are better than one for stirring the tagine and Taktuka, Moroccan tomato and roasted green pepper salad.

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Picked from outside the kitchen

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The Dada showed us how to cut a lemon peel into a decorative leaf.

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She also demonstrated how preserved lemons are made. They are slit, filled with salt, and partially covered with olive oil.  As they age, they turn darker.

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Custard for the Milk Pastilla served for dessert

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I left the class and headed for the pool ready to nap.  But first, I thought of all I’d learned. I already knew that wherever I live in the future, on Fridays I’ll crave the comfort of couscous.  Yet the class renewed my interest in all Moroccan food.  Though I’d been served tasty tagines by private cooks, I’d eaten in some restaurants where dishes were bland; but as Wafaa promised, we learned to cook as Moroccans do in their own kitchens.  To this southern girl, home cooking–seasoning to taste with as much spice and heat as I like–made all the difference.   I left with a tagine and recipes I’m ready to repeat, but perhaps, more importantly. I left with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for my host country.

From my first visit to the medina I learned of Morocco’s vibrant Jewish quarter and continued hearing the  history of the kingdom’s pledge to protect and to respect all people. Wafaa told tourists of Mohammed VI’s social reforms favoring women and of the late Mohammed V who protected 250,000 Jews from the occupying Vichy French forces and the Nazis during World War II.  When asked  to enact legislation discriminating against Jews, Mohammed V refused and responded: “There are no Jews in Morocco, only subjects.” Last December in New York City the late king was named first recipient of The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. – Rabbi Abraham Heschel Award given by KIVUNIM:  The Institute for World Jewish Studies at their 10th Anniversary Conference.

Moroccans I have met not only love food but also allow guests their own tastes.

In Morocco, though we are conservative, we live and let other people live. Morocco as a country is very tolerant. It accepts people’s traditions.  Whatever your religion is, whatever your ideas…whatever your way of life, it does not matter to us. We respect our culture and we respect other people’s cultures.–Wafaa

January in Marrakesh

 

“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
–Percy Bysshe Shelley

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It’s January, and my Facebook feed is a flurry.  A snowstorm has hit the US–including my home in the south– leaving all covered in white.  Here temps have been in the 70s and climbed to the 80s this weekend.  The Atlas Mountains that were covered in snow all last winter are bare.  But on the rooftop of The Pearl, aptly named, all is winter white.   At the perfect place for lunch and a panoramic view, roses, bougainvillea, and snowball bushes bloom.

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Namazake, the Japanese restaurant on the top floor, serves on the terrace.

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I had been here once before with my friend, Synnove, who chose the rooftop for dinner last spring. The sushi is delicious, but in this beautiful hotel just having a drink provides a feast for the eyes.

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Today was a good day.  On the walk home, Kate pulled me into Dino for a treat.  We may not have snow, but we have ice cream.

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Pepe Nero: A Place to Celebrate

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When my niece, Emily, and her boyfriend, Andres, said they’d be visiting me in Marrakesh, I wanted a perfect place to take them for dinner our last night together. I sought somewhere signature Moroccan– mysterious, exotic, and beautiful. A place that practices hospitality and serves a mix of traditional and European delicious dishes. Pepe Nero, my new favorite restaurant in town, granted every wish and more.

Mysterious…The night began with the thrill of intrigue.  Afraid I could never lead us through the medina, a medieval labyrinth of darkness, deserted streets, and closed shops at night, I was relieved that  Chahid Essafa, truly a Customer Service Extraordinaire, said he’d send a guide to escort us. Excited, we waited in front of Café de France, mesmerized by the lanterns glowing across Jemaa el Fna square. Behind us a man in a black suit appeared.

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He serenely introduced himself, turned, and led the way, shielding us from errant motorcyclists as we wound around corners and down solemn streets. Only our shadows and those of a few feral cats stretched up the red clay walls as we silently walked under lamp lights. Though our destination was less than ten minutes away, adrenaline flowed from the surreal setting and suspense of wondering behind which wall our journey would end.

And then Emily and Andres experienced what I love about this city.  A desolate alleyway. A door swings open. Inside…paradise.

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Beautiful…Carrara marble,  cedar ceilings, and Moorish fountains transport guests to another time.   We ate by the Andalusian pool flanked by flaming torches from a James Bond dream set. Trees reached for the moon—gorgeous that night—as we sat under stars. Bougainvillea draped from the second story balcony.

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Exotic…Pepe Nero is the restaurant within Riyad Al Moussika, former palace of “Lord of the Atlas,” Pasha of Marrakech from 1912-1956.  According to BBC, Thami El Giaoui at the time of his death “was the most powerful man in Morocco and one of the wealthiest men in the world.” Guests can rent one of six luxury suites overlooking the two lavish courtyards. Breakfast is served on the terrace rooftop overlooking the Atlas mountains.

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Haute cuisine...Guests can choose from two menus—one Moroccan, one Italian–prepared by Mr. Khalid Essafa Robazza, Cordon Bleu Chef and owner.  We three went with Moroccan because When in Rome… (and Emily and Andres had just come from there).  We feasted on salads and Harira Soup (a tradition), then roasted leg of lamb, lamb tagine, and Pastilla di Piccione (pigeon pie–a local delicacy).  The waiters were attentive, kind, and patient as we toured the riad, Emily and I tag-teaming behind the camera.

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Welcomed with drinks

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Lamb Tagine

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Roasted Shoulder of Lamb

 

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Cinnamon-glazed Pastilla

 

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The food was so delicious, the dining experience so exceptional and the wine list so tempting, I returned the following week with my friend, Jasna, to try one dish off the Italian menu–lasagna that was the best I’ve had anywhere– so I could save room for dessert. As a Kentucky girl, I chose the Bourbon Vanilla Crème Brûlée with the crunch-cream topping–my new favorite dessert in all of Morocco. Pepe Nero provides complimentary cake for birthday parties.  It’s a five-star dining experience at affordable prices, and I’m already looking forward to the next celebration.

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Cordon Bleu Chef/Owner Khalid Essafa Robazza

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Gracious Manager Chahid Essafa

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Khalid, Member of Wonderful Waitstaff

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Cindy McCain, Southern Girl Gone Global