Nomads’ tajine

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Tajines are a variety of North African dishes, named after the clay pot whereh they are cooked, in which various kinds of meat can be used – or not, thus turning it into a simple yet tasty vegetarian dish (we tried beef, chicken and vegetable, but we also found lamp and meatballs). We had tasted lots of it while in Morocco, some were below average, others were simply not bad, but some proved exceptional choices. My favorite was the one I had at La Cantine des gazelles in Marrakech, a chicken tajine with apricots, plums and almonds.

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The dish I enjoyed most while in Morocco

I tried to emulate that taste, based on recipes I found and adding some more stuff to achieve the final result. The main problem I was faced with is that I don’t own a tajine pot. It wasn’t such a big deal though, as I used a pot to boil the ingredients and a deep, covered braising pan to roast them. So, here it is. For a dish that can easily serve six people, you will need:

  • About a kilo and a half of beef
  • 1 and a half small spoons of cumin
  • 2 small spoons of cinnamon
  • ¼ small spoon of turmeric
  • 1small spoon of ginger
  • salt
  • pepper
  • some olive oil
  • water
  • 2 onions
  • beef stock
  • about six plums
  • 2 large spoons of honey
  • 3 aubergines
  • 5 carrots
  • 4 zucchini
  • 4 potatoes
  • some almonds
  • Patience

We start be cutting the meat to medium sized pieces, before boiling it in low heat for a couple of hours to make it as tender as possible.

After that rather slow, yet easy process, we take the pieces of meat and spray them with cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, salt, pepper and some olive oil and mix it to ensure the spices reach every last piece of it.

Then we heat some olive oil in a large saucepan and when it’s super hot we place the pieces of beef on it for a while and turn it around to make sure it gets a nice color in every side. It won’t take long and once we are done with this step, we add enough water to cover the meat (you can use the dish where you mixed the beef and spices to do that, establishing that more spices will contribute to the final result). That’s it for now, all we have to do is cover the saucepan and boil in medium heat for nearly a couple of hours.

After patiently awaiting for that long, you have to throw in the sauce pan the finely chopped onions, the plums (sliced in halves), the honey and the beef stock and let it boil for a while (five minutes maybe), before throwing in the vegetables. If you don’t have such a large sauce pan (I didn’t) never mind. They will boil in the oven anyways, so it’s not really such a big deal.

You must be equipped with some sort of deep braising pan that has a cover. That is if you don’t own a tajine (I didn’t and I can live without it). Then you throw the content of the saucepan along with the vegetables and almonds in that braising pan, cover, place in the oven and wait for nearly a couple of hours. Enjoy!

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We are back!

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Hey there! What a great adventure that was! This year’s project turned out to be tremendous and we had lots of fun, having the opportunity to admire sites in three countries as we moved in airplanes, metro, buses, trains, taxis, even camels. Of course given the limited amount of time at our disposal and the rather large sum of places we wished to visit, some places were left out of our itinerary, but that was expected, albeit sadly. We also had some tough luck regarding our equipment, as Catherine’s phone got a screen crack, her tablet broke and her camera had a minor malfunction that we managed to overcome a few seconds ago and succeeded in moving our photos in a hard drive (MY hard drive, so I guess they are safe from what ever curse has befallen my beloved girl’s electronic devices- and I have to say, I’m very glad I am not a cyborg).

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We encountered many people, hanged out with a few, chatted in some Portuguese in Lisbon, had some laughs with a wannabe gangsta crew on our way to Madrid, even got acquainted with the ambiguous tactics of strangers offering guiding instructions while in Marrakesh and also visited Barcelona after the tragedy on La Rampla, which added a bitter tone to our trip.

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We’ll add detailed descriptions of this year’s journey on the following posts over the next weeks, so, stay tuned…

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Focusing on our forthcoming journey to Morocco

Djemaa el Fna

…Stepping foot on Marrakesh will be a first one for us, since it will mark our initial footsteps on the African continent. Celebrations of this fact will have to be put on hold though, as we’ll have to find a way to our hotel near Jemaa el Fnaa square. Bus 19 is the cheapest option at a cost of 30 MAD per person (here’s a helpful map of the route, that someone uploaded), while a petit taxi that would probably cost 70 MAD (+50%) is the convenient alternative. Since we are arriving rather late, we won’t have much time at our disposal and our tendency to explore will have to be confined within the limits of the central plaza. Furthermore, we are leaving for a short excursion outside Marrakesh early in the morning, therefore we should definitely get some rest (Since these excursions are following a rather strict schedule, there is nothing to plan, so we’ll omit the details regarding that part of the trip. We’ll gladly share our thoughts and experience once we return though).

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Once we are back to Marrakesh, we are having a full day in our hands, in order to do some exploration taking advantage of the fact that we are staying at such a central location. For this trip Morocco is Catherine’s eagerly anticipated destination (mine is Portugal if anyone cares) and we’ll try to make the best of it during the few days spent there. Our exploration of Marrakesh will be centered around Jemaa el Fna and the nearby souks, the city spot where everything takes place and we are bound to make a circular route centered on this plaza.
El Badi Palace from Wall 2011

Our first visit will be on the El Badi palace ruins, which will cost a mere 20MAD entrance fee and will offer us the chance to maybe spend a couple of hours admiring the ruins of this 16th century Saadian palace. It seems that the place may be a bit deserted, while some storks are taking advantage of it, nesting and that might provide us with some decent photos.

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Our next stop will be the nearby Saadian tombs (1 euro entrance fee) where we’ll try and enjoy a small visit (word has it that the place can get discouragingly crowdy), before carrying on our tour to Bab Agnaou, one of the nearly twenty gates to the city, which was built in the 12th century and getting a closer view at Koutoubia mosque (as close as non Muslims can approach that is).
Carpets in Marrakech

Later, we are moving north of Jemaa el fna, towards Bahia palace (1euro fee), where we’ll have a look at the complex of gardens, courtyards and houses that a 19th century Grand Vizier had built. The compound seems that will provide us with a taste of a blend between Moroccan and Islamic architecture and possibly with some unforgettable memories, yet not so great as the ones we are expecting from the next site we intend to visit, which is …
Majorelle Garden

…Majorelle garden, a villa and garden built by French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 20’s, who seems to have constructed quite a home for himself. He has produced such a great performance on this labor, that the predominant shade of cobalt blue that is dominant throughout the place is called after him. Anyways, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the place in the 80’s and Saint-Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the garden (I guess we’ll have to take care of our looks, no one wants the ghost of a fashion designer haunting him or her), while there are plans to establish a museum dedicated to the designer’s life and work on this spot in September. So, we’ll have a walk around the place (map) and keep up with our visit in the city returning to the central square, eager to experience everything we can get our minds onto during our stay in the city, before eventually getting back to Spain for the last leg of our trip.

(It is evident that we do not own any of the photos on this post, they are all originating from wikipedia. We’ll post our own once we return from our trip)

Gains and losses – An update on our summer plans

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It has been quite a while since we last posted anything regarding our forthcoming trip. Last time we did, we declared our intention to visit Zaragoza. Well, cross that off! Surely, it is an interesting city but we mostly wished to visit in order to rest on our way to Barcelona, since our time will be limited. However, we opted to spend a bit of our budget on train tickets and we will reach Barcelona after a three hour trip. So, as we have taken care of every transport needs necessary here’s the final form of our itinerary.

  • Day 1 We arrive in Lisbon late at night, therefore, a nap will be our sole experience of Portugal for the day
  • Day 2 sightseeing in Lisbon
  • Day 3 A visit to nearby Sintra and one of the nearby Praias for a swim
  • Day 4 We check out of our hotel and continue sightseeing in Lisbon, till we catch the night train to Madrid
  • Day 5 Spend the day in Madrid until we board an evening flight to Marrakech
  • Days 6 to 9 are spent in Morrocco
  • Day 10 Returning to Madrid after noon, where we catch the evening train to Barcelona
  • Day 11 Sightseeing in Barcelona
  • Day 12 some more sightseeing, before departing in the evening

To sum up, we are done with the main structure of our trip. So far the cost comes to 100 euro flight from Greece to Lisbon, a 23 train ticket to Madrid, a 50 € air fare to Morocco, the same amount for the return to Spain, a 40 € train ticket to Barcelona and a 35 € flight back home. Total amount of 298 euros each for our main transports (We haven’t included smaller fees, such as public transport or taxis in the cities and the train ticket to Sintra). As far as our accommodation is concerned, we’ve already booked our stay in Lisbon and a couple of days in Morocco, so, we need to reserve rooms for another couple of days in Marrakesh and a couple more in Barcelona.

We’ve also quite determined which places to visit during our stay in Lisbon, but we’ll present those once this list is conclusive.

Gardening…

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Once more Easter time is upon us and – since Catherine has taken advantage of this rather long weekend, I’m all alone, relaxing, enjoying an Attack on Titan marathon alongside lamb sandwiches, after a rather crazy evening out with some friends in nearby Arta. I haven’t been as idle as I described though, since over the past days I am preparing a surprise for Catherine to enjoy (hopefully), when she returns back home.

IMG_6484.JPGWe would often talk about how great it would be if we had a garden, but, as we live in an apartment we lack the space necessary to fulfill this wish. Every year though, we take advantage of the small balcony space available to plant cherry tomatoes, peppers, basil, strawberries alongside some flowers. This year I took it up a notch. I planted some more flowers and tried to imitate a sense of relaxation we encounter in most city parks we visit (I have to admit, Planty Park of Krakow was in my mind the whole time during this effort, but you cannot imitate perfection). To sum up this gardening thing, it seems it’s a fun way to travel through your plants to places visited or place you want to visit. And speaking of future travels, here’s the newest update on our next trip.

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So far we have established that we’ll fly from Athens to Lisbon for day 1 (While in Portugal, we’ll also visit Sintra).

On day 4 we’ll head to Madrid (probably aboard a night bus) and in the evening of day 5 we are off to Marrakech.

On day 10 we are leaving Morocco and fly back to Madrid, where we are either taking a bus/train to Zaragoza to spend the night before carrying on to Barcelona, or we are heading straight for Barcelona until the evening of day 12, when we are flying back to Greece. Unfortunately, it seems that we’ll spend a lot of time on the road and we won’t see much of Spain, but our budget and time are limited. Hopefully we’ll have every last detail sorted out during the next couple of months.

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Dealing with our next destination – longing for Morocco

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So far, we ‘ve determined that we ‘ll visit Lisbon as our first stop in this year’s itinerary and Barcelona as the point of our return back home. We ‘ve also decided to spent three days in Lisbon and its surroundings and now remains to be seen what to do between Lisbon and Barcelona. There are many options, but our major goal is to visit Morocco, especially Marrakech, Aït-Benhaddou, the Atlas mountains and see the dunes in the desert.

Our desire to visit the country dates back to about a couple of years when we noticed that some low fare tickets were available, yet we had already made arrangements for our trip to Central Europe, which was a delightful experience. However the need to spend some time in the country remained and we ‘ll do our best to materialize our wish this summer. Besides, having an Ibn Battuta’s quote as a logo, this blog simply MUST sojourn in his place of origin. Sadly, we ‘ll probably not have time to visit his hometown, Tangiers, but one simply has to manage time properly, regardless the cost. The easiest way to enter the country seems to be a flight from Lisbon to Casablanca and then a train to Marrakech. A slightly cheaper, though more tiresome alternative seems to be an overnight bus from Lisbon to Madrid and then a flight to Marrakech. That would leave out a hotel stay and give us the chance to catch a glimpse of the Spanish capital but seems a bit exhausting, therefore the flight from Lisbon seems the most reasonable choice.

Both choices imply that we ‘ll have to forfeit a day, either that be traveling from Casablanca to Marrakech (it’s a five hour train ride, yet provided we get up early, we can catch the first train and be on our destination in the morning), or crossing half the Iberian peninsula overnight to linger in Madrid for the whole day. Still Casablanca seems a bit more appealing choice, since it seems by all aspects to be the most comfortable way to continue our trip to Marrakech.