From the first year that I lived in Marrakesh, I dreamed of leading a travel writing retreat there. No country has been a muse to me like Morocco. I wanted to share inspiring experiences with women who also need to write and explore. The pandemic postponed my dream. But while waiting for borders to reopen, I wrote a memoir about my years in the Red City.
Meanwhile, a woman named Laila Krattiger was trying to fulfill her dream — a haven for travelers that offers Morocco’s warm hospitality, Switzerland’s pristine precision, and Italy’s dramatic style. She opened the doors to Riad Luciano in Marrakesh… and pandemic slammed them shut. The world was on lockdown. As she discusses in the interview below, she shook off the shock with optimism and then used the time to make a major renovation and assemble a dream team.
The word quarantine is derived from the Italian quaranta giorni which means “40 days.” During the Middle Ages, passengers were detained on ships in ports for this length of time to quell the spread of bubonic plague. The Black Death killed one-third of the world’s population. However, in the next era, survivors celebrated life and were more creative than ever before. During the Renaissance, which means “Rebirth,” art flourished.
Likewise, post-pandemic we’re traveling like never before. We recognize our need for adventure, beauty, and connection. Riad Luciano reopened and is a work of art even more beautiful than before. Laila’s tenacity paid off, and her vision was realized. I’m so glad I could experience it.
My writing retreat finally happened. Before it started, I set aside three days of solo stays in Marrakesh. Since becoming a caregiver to my mom over a year ago, I’ve valued solo travel more than ever. Since 2013, I’ve featured my favorite resorts, boutique hotels, and Moroccan riads on this blog. Every property has an essence — the souls, the people who are the brand. A place of beauty has heart. It’s the product of hard work, tears, and tenacity. The realization of a dream.
I read websites and reviews on about a hundred resorts and riads before choosing Riad Luciano for my first night back in Morocco. It promised Moroccan warmth, Swiss precision, and Italian style… and delivered. I still dream of living in Italy, and I fell in love with Switzerland on my first trip to Lucerne. The stay was even better than I anticipated. Take a tour of Riad Luciano below. Meet Laila who lives her life in Zug, a city between Zurich and Lucerne, and Morocco. We talk about living cross-culturally and she gives must-dos in her cities. Hear her advice to younger people on seeing the world.
If you prefer listening to the podcast, the audio is here. You can book Riad Luciano on the website link above or here.
Disclosure: I was a guest at Hotel Luciano. I only recommend accommodations I’ve stayed in personally and HIGHLY endorse. As always, all opinions on this blog are my own.
Disclosure: Some posts on this blog have affiliate links to offset my cost at no additional fees for the consumer.
Below are photos of Laila in Morocco and Switzerland with family and colleagues with whom she designs excursions.
Choosing accommodations when you’re a solo traveler in a new city is especially important. And yes, a vital consideration is location, location, location. As Laila points out in our interview, guests aren’t forced. to stay in their rooms or go out when there are plenty of public spaces for relaxing. As in any large city, I don’t typically go out alone on foot after dark. Having a balcony and rooftop allows me to enjoy city lights, cool breezes, and full moons.
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.
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.
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.
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”)
Jam (pictured above is Homestyle Traffic Jam, a gift from a friend who bought in Gatlinburg, TN–available online here) other options are Organic Mixed Berry Conserve and I love the Dalmatia fig spread at Aldi’s, too.
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.
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).
Red Sangria (our family favorite for summer and Christmas, too)
Bottle of Red wine (Spanish wine recommended but I’ve used merlot or cabs, too)
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.
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).
(Left) Strawberries in season, avocado, and balsamic vinegar
(Right) Sliced Tomatoes, Green Peppers, and Cucumbers with Vinegar and Olive Oil.
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.
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.
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.
1½ cup vegetable or chicken broth (liquid should be even with about ⅔ of contents of pot)
salt and pepper to taste
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.
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)
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).
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.)
Melt the butter and oil together in a large pan.
Brown the chicken pieces all over and remove from the pan.
Add the onions and bacon and allow to fry until the onions are soft and translucent and the bacon has rendered its fat.
Add the garlic and allow to saute for another 30 seconds before removing the mixture from the pan (leaving the fat behind).
Add the mushrooms and allow to fry for 5 minutes.
Add the onion and bacon mixture along with the browned chicken back to the pan.
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.
After 15 minutes, uncover, turn up the heat and add the cream. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
Add the chopped parsley and season to taste.
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