A Bad Day to Buy Peas

Yesterday, being Saturday, we went shopping to supply ourselves for the coming week’s meals. Heading to our standard one-stop shopping location we bought raspberries and other fruits and vegetables (since we did not order a basket this week from La Ferme Bleue); fresh baguettes out of the oven; duck confit, ground turkey, lamb chops, and chicken breasts for meat; cream, butter, creme fraiche, and cream cheese from the dairy section; various grocery-type things for supplies; and water. We had planned to buy frozen peas as well, but we learned that yesterday was a bad day to buy peas.

Week after week, months into our fourth year living in Casablanca, frozen peas stand as perhaps the one thing which we could expect to buy any time we want them. Except yesterday. The freezer section of Carrefour Gourmet had no shortage of “Vegetable Soup Mix” – bags stuffed with cubed carrots and potatoes and peas that would give Birdseye and Green Giant a run for their money. It had bags of sliced leeks and bags of sliced onions. Usually it has at least two brands of frozen peas. In the latest homage to the Moroccan shopping axiom “Buy it when you see it; because when you want it, it may be gone,” today it had none.

Not a big deal. Our lives do not turn on whether or not we have frozen peas. Audrey had planned to use them in a recipe she found called “Chicken Vesuvius.” Fortunately, we still have about a half cup of frozen peas left in the freezer; so her dish can still erupt with peas, just fewer of them than she had planned.

And we are well aware of our good fortune to live in Casablanca when we do, with Carrefour Gourmet and freezer sections and good roads to get us to grocery stores, and all the things developing in this developing country that make living here now much more convenient than it was just a decade ago. GWA’s first employee, hired a year before the school actually opened and known still as Employee #1 as she continues to smile through her 22nd year at the 21-year-old school, recently shared with us how far living in Casablanca has come since she came to Casablanca in the 1980s.

But still, it was a bad day to buy peas. Driving home, with Brian planning to stop for gas along Route d’Azemmour we thought Audrey could pop into another Carrefour next to the gas station while Brian had the tank filled. He let her off in front of the store, then pulled into the station to fill up.

Salaam Alaikum. (Peace be upon you)

Wa-Alaikum Salaam. Bghit sans plomb, plein, 3afak. (And unto you, peace. Please fill it with unleaded.)

Mashi Moshkil. (No problem.)

As the station attendant finished filling the tank, Audrey climbed in without any peas. Apparently, Carrefour’s supply problem extended beyond the Gourmet store. It was a bad day to buy peas. We could have hopscotched around Casablanca looking for frozen peas, because we live here now and not three decades ago. But we had a few peas at home for Vesuvius to erupt, we preferred not to spend more time hunting for more peas, and we certainly did not want to spend more time hunting only to discover it was a bad day to buy peas anywhere in Casablanca.

Our posts often have noted our shared foodie passion. Whether traveling or at home, we love to enjoy good food and beverages. We love to make good food and beverages. We love to talk about good food and beverages. And we love to find others who love to enjoy, make, and talk about good food and beverages. Yesterday afternoon Brian made a pitcher of raspberry margaritas (hence the aforementioned raspberry purchase at Carrefour Gourmet) to bring to the engagement party of one of GWA’s teachers to one of GWA’s former teachers who moved to another school in town a couple years ago. The party was great. The pitcher of raspberry margaritas disappeared quickly. And among the great conversations we enjoyed was one with a GWA couple from Texas-Mexico about our longstanding need to get together for an evening making tamales with the corn husks and masa flour that Brian brought back from the U.S. last December, and about making tortillas, salsa, and carnitas at home. The day before, we thrilled in feasting on rfissa (see our 6 December 2016 post) for lunch to celebrate one of our admissions staff giving birth to her second son this summer. We have no shortage of opportunities to revel in foodiness.

But for weeks Brian has wanted to make molasses cookies without the ability to do so. When the urge first hit, he pulled up his “Great-Grandma Reidinger’s Best Molasses Cookies in the World” recipe that he remembered his great-grandmother Rose DuPont LaVallée Reidinger making when he was little; that his grandmother Elsie LaVallée Menard Kemp used to send to him by the boxload when he was in college; that his mother, JoAnne, appropriated to her side of the family after marrying Brian’s father and has made for decades; and which his stepfather has in turn adopted and turned into one of Grandpa Bob’s signature culinary items that Margaret and Charlotte look forward to devour whenever they visit their grandparents in Washington State. Recipes, and the food they produce, become DNA for families.

Beginning to salivate just by letting the recipe take him back through five decades of molasses cookie yumminess, Brian began to pull ingredients out of the refrigerator and cabinets: butter, sugar, flour, baking soda, eggs, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt…and, of course, the molasses he bought last December during his stateside visit and brought back home to Casablanca so he could make Great-Grandma Reidinger’s Best Molasses Cookies in the World.

Wait…where were the ground cloves?

The recipe called for ½ teaspoon of ground cloves per batch.

Brian went through each spice jar in our cabinet – which, as a foodie house, is a lot of spice jars. We had whole cloves, but not ground cloves. Nowhere. Brian thought, “Well, I’ll just grind some whole cloves with our mortar and pestle.” However much this seemed like simple problem-solving, it was what one might say in summary was a bad idea. Had he added what came from what seemed like days of grinding and grinding to a bowl of cookie dough, the resulting batch of clove-chunk cookies would not have won any awards, and might have lost him friends. So with great sadness he put away the ingredients.

Thus started the quest for ground cloves in Casablanca. Suffice it to say, over several weeks and through multiple stores this quest went unfulfilled…and Brian began to wonder glumly how he would use the three jars of molasses brought from the U.S. to make many batches of his favorite molasses cookies.

Then last week a glimmer of hope appeared. Audrey needed to head back to the U.S. for a brief trip, and asked if there was anything he wanted her to bring back with her upon returning home. One thing topped the list, even ahead of Tostitos and their mandatory accompaniment of Cheese Crack (aka Tostitos Salsa Con Queso).

GROUND CLOVES!!! A big jar. Not some puny little half jar. Biiiiiiig jar!

When she returned home on Thursday, she unpacked her suitcase of happiness. Charlotte had a huge vat of Mrs. Butterworth’s Syrup, prompting her to declare forcefully her intention to make pancakes as soon as she got back to her new home 10 minutes away. Brian collected the Tostitos and Cheese Crack and put them away in a cupboard. Then Brian returned for what he sought most: ground cloves. Audrey presented him with a big, beautiful jar – at ½ teaspoon per batch this would last through all three giant jars of molasses that had been waiting for this moment.

So last night Brian pulled out butter to soften, and this morning he pulled up Great-Grandma Reidinger’s recipe and took out all the ingredients…including ground cloves. The only hitch today was the oven going out during pre-heating – just a delay, not an obstacle. Six dozen cookies later, a perfect 72 count from the double-batch batter bowl, all seems right with the world, and generations of ancestors can rest easily knowing that the culinary DNA continues.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

La Ferme Bleue (The Blue Farm)

Morocco offers so many reasons to move here.  Foodies that we are, we long have seen Moroccan produce as high up on that list!

In the U.S. we loved shopping at farmers markets for fresh and beautiful organic fruits and vegetables.  Besides obvious names like Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market, Singh Farms in Scottsdale (AZ) and the Bellingham Farmers Market in Bellingham (WA) stand among our favorites…worth going if you find yourself in either vicinity.

With Casablanca’s easy and affordable access to Europe, touring farmers markets in Italy, France, and Hungary has helped make memorable our travel experiences since basing in Morocco.  During a month in southwestern France two summers ago we frequented the weekly market in the Medieval village square of Eymet and took in other markets in Issigeac and elsewhere through the Dordogne region.  Spending two weeks in the summer of 2018 day-tripping through the Italian region of Umbria, basing ourselves in a 12th Century house in the historic section of Orvieto allowed us to ground our culinary activity in the Piazza del Populo’s  farmers market each Thursday and Saturday morning, bringing home fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats to build into meals that our Italian neighbors would complement as they walked by our open kitchen door. (We took that as high praise.)  And during our two week vacation in northern Italy this summer, we spent a day touring through the huge canopy market of Porto Palazzo in Torino, tasting cheeses and breads and truffles and fresh fruits as covered stalls stretched for block after block and vendor stands into building after building.

So the first time we shopped in Casablanca’s souks we considered it most fortunate to discover our Moroccan home offered us in-season produce at the peak of ripeness and that – unlike supermarket veggies in the U.S. – taste the way produce SHOULD taste.  Here in Morocco, carrots are carroty, oranges are orangey, tomatoes are tomatoey. You get the idea. We tried different souks, first making Souk Dallas in Hay Hassani our “go to” place each week. We had one guy from whom we bought our fruit; another guy for onions, carrots and potatoes; another guy for other vegetables; and still another for herbs and mint.  We tried the open-air souk a few blocks from Hay Hassani’s Al Kaoutar Mosque a couple times, but decided the fresh produce we scored did not balance struggling to find a place to park and maneuver on foot through the streets clogged with carts and people and donkeys and more. Ultimately we settled on the souks in the CIL neighborhood both because we liked the friendly folks there who adopted us, and because its location across the street from O’Self Market – known colloquially as “the French grocery store” where one can buy hard-to-find western items like Heinz Ketchup or panko breadcrumbs – meant we could achieve most of our shopping by parking once and hitting both sides of the broad Rue d’Ifrane.  Regardless of where we shopped, one thing was certain: while we bought staples at grocery stores like Marjane and Carrefour, we almost always purchased produce at the souks because their produce looked so much better than grocery store produce.

Then, more than halfway through our first year, the French supermarket chain Carrefour finished remodeling one of its many Casablanca grocery stores and reopened it as Carrefour Gourmet.  With not only high quality meats at the butcher counter (where we can buy an entire beef tenderloin for about $40, cut it up into about a dozen huge steaks, and pull them out of the freezer anytime we want); an enviable deli with cheeses from around the world, homemade pasta, and chicken sausages that are divine to grill; an in-house Amoud Boulangerie et Pâtisserie where we buy right-out-of-the-oven baguettes that Panera Bread can only dream of baking back in the U.S., plus msemmen and croissants and French pastry desserts; and grocery items often friendly to European and American tastes; Carrefour Gourmet also has beautiful produce, sometimes even things we cannot find elsewhere in Morocco (like the occasional appearance of tall and sturdy bunches of American celery instead of the palty Moroccan celery with three or four small stalks to a bunch).  While we still shopped occasionally in the CIL, to save time in our crazy schedules we most often have shopped at Carrefour Gourmet, like a Casablanca homage to Whole Foods (without the “Whole Paycheck” prices).

And so it was for the better part of three years…until now.

A few weeks ago, one of our new administrators living 10 minutes south of campus in the village of Dar Bouazza told us of a fantastic organic farm she had discovered, La Ferme Bleue, near Jack Beach close to her house.  For 200 MAD (about $20 USD), they delivered to her a huge crate full of fruits and vegetables picked that day.  Audrey got the phone number and – testing her freehand French – called right away to see if they would deliver to us on the George Washington Academy campus.  Indeed, they would. So we signed up to have them deliver a basket to us for the next week.

We let our amazing house-helper Tourea know it was coming so that she could hand off the 200 MAD note and collect the basket (actually a three cubic foot plastic crate).  She did…and more. When we got home, Tourea had washed all the just-picked produce, put a drawfull of zucchini and peppers into the fridge, and laid the rest of it out on the counter for us to marvel at the bounty.  Potatoes, carrots, onions, winter squash, radishes, turnips, parsnips, leeks, corn, several different kinds of tomatoes, spinach, basil, cilantro, melons, and two things we have rarely seen in Morocco – and NEVER as beautiful as in this basket – chard and kale.


Our vegetarian daughter, a kale fanatic, came back to visit us and make kale chips.  (Of course we know she loves us, but we also know that visiting us was an excuse to have kale.)  This haul of organic beauty would have cost at least five times as much in a U.S. grocery store, and not with farmers market freshness.  Even at Carrefour Gourmet in Casablanca we would have paid three or four times as much. We could not contain our excitement. We also could not find enough meals in the course of the ongoing week to eat it all.  So at the end of the week, anticipating the next basket’s arrival, we gave away what we had left (nearly half the basket!) to folks connected to the school who could put it to use.

Of course, we also posted a picture of the haul…and people began to inquire right away about how we had procured the load.  Before we knew it, interest piqued and people at school were talking about sharing baskets (knowing there was no way they could use an entire basket themselves).  This weekend we received our third delivery, and in addition to our own there were three more that came to our apartment as “delivery central” with each additional basket split between at least a couple people.  Meanwhile, Audrey is in Produce Heaven going through her Saturday morning ritual of combing through cookbooks to plan meals for the week (her de-stressing activity) before we do our Saturday shopping. No longer needing to buy veggies at Carrefour Gourmet, our Saturday grocery bill has dropped considerably thanks to the 200 MAD we give to La Ferme Bleue each Friday, and what used to be an hour-long shopping adventure has shortened by nearly half that time since we do not have to battle crowds moving slowly around les fruits et les légumes.

Suffice it to say that we have boosted our foodie resources in Casablanca considerably with the discovery of La Ferme Bleue.  We can plan meat and other meal elements around vegetables instead of vegetables around meat, which is how things should be.  Brian, a deeply devoted carnivore with midwestern roots in “brown and beige” meals, as a University of Virginia graduate school alumnus nonetheless likes to quote UVa Founder Thomas Jefferson in saying that meat should be a condiment.  After just three weeks, we feel more healthy already, and our counters and our refrigerator have never looked so good!

On your mark, get set, here we go!