India is large and varied, but I am always struck by it’s colour and chaos. Previously, I visited Jaipur and rural areas of Rajasthan covering stories on organic farming and once I spent five relaxing days on a retreat in Bangalore but this time I’m visiting New Delhi and I only have two days.
Instead of trying to describe in words, here are the pictures.
A ride through old Delhi. Photos taken from tuk tuk.
I’m with Lara Matossian delivering training for the Foreign Commonwealth Office in Delhi and like when we were working in Morocco we find time to take in some of the sights and sample the local food.
And a morning looking at the spice market, mostly from rooftops!
From the hills of the Algarve to the cities of Casablanca and Rabat. My mission? To deliver role-play as part of training with the British Embassy and FCO on crisis management. I only have 48 hours and one day is for training but I make the most of my time managing to get a taste and flavour of the place and culture.
The award winning 1943 film was probably filmed in Hollywood and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman never set foot in Casablanca. The film makers did a good job at capturing the character of the place as It felt familiar somehow when I stepped out into the streets. The hint of French colonialism and the turn of the century architecture provides a dramatic setting though many report that Casablanca doesn’t have as much to offer as other places in Morocco. I only had a morning before picking up my connecting fight to Rabat so what can you do?
Take a walk
Visit the Old Medina
I’m quite resilient but i wouldn’t say i felt completely safe with my camera and phone at eleven o’clock in the morning, particularly as a woman alone. I was aware i was clocked by watching eyes as I entered and although I wanted to explore the labyrinth of alleyways where there are leather goods, snacks being served and local ‘tat’ or as they say in the UAE, ‘genuine fakes’ but instead I kept to the perimeter.
Buy a tagine
I found a shop selling tagines and although I didn’t have much room in my hand luggage I wanted to buy a small one for cooking, not just serving. The staff were pleasant and helpful, so much so they escorted me upstairs to a bigger space selling carpets and local artefacts. The senior proprietor came forward and started showing me a variety of wares. I explained my limitations space wise and then the bartering process began. I was definitely not up to speed with this but apparently as ‘first customer of the day’ and ‘lucky’ you get extra discount. I left with a small tagine having spent about 10 euros (i think I overpaid). Regardless I enjoyed the experience and felt like I got a small slice of Casablanca culture.
I meet Lara, my fellow actor and facilitator, and we are driven the one hour journey to the capital, Rabat.
Take a walk
Visit the medina
Buy a djellaba
I love the hooded long coats the local’s wear and figured it would be a good ‘warmer’ for me on the mountain. By the way Djellaba means attractive.
And a fez
The Moroccan head wear named after the cultural city of Fez. As a Brit growing up in 70’s England when i see a fez i think of comedian Tommy Cooper which of course bears no real relation to the cultural meaning and identity to the hat and country, his its believed relates to his time spent in Egypt. Goes to show hats can carry meaning (or not). Its a complex history to this hat: http://www.hatsandcaps.co.uk/history-of-the-fez-athe_fez/
Order lamb tagine
So many varieties to chose from on any menu from chicken, lamb, vegetables blending fruits, nuts and spices like ginger, turmeric and cardamom.
The shape of the lid allows for steam to rise and the moisture slips down inside the pot and cooks the ingredients retaining flavour, tenderness of meat. The original slow cooking utensil.
The sweet potato festival in Aljezur happens each year in November celebrating the ingredient and the variety of ways it can be used and eaten. I love a roasted sweet potato in the pan with carrots, pumpkin and any other root vegetables you can find. Because the nutrient rich soil of this part of Southern Portugal makes a particularly tasty spud there is much to be celebrated apparently as thousands descend on the grand hall, there is even a little train which transports the masses from the carparks to the event. There is live music, cookery demos, arts and crafts and lots of people and batatas knocking around.
Along with roasting, people love sweet potato fries and crisps and apparently cake too!
If you drive through rural Portugal in November you are likely to hear the thudding and bashing of branches as olives are battered from their trees, shaved off in some cases and carried off in huge nets and sifted by hand through large manmade sieves to take off the unwanted sticks and leaves. It’s an aggressive system but it’s a labour of love for the families in their rural communities as their strength and skill is passed down through generations. You will see olive trees lining the groves the length and breadth of the country and the people take pride in this beautiful product, the elixir that is olive oil to sip, drizzle or lightly fry.
Portugal ranks as the world’s 8th largest producer of olive oil at around 50,000 tons.
It was early November when I got the call from a friend who I knew from Dubai and who too had found Portugal to be the setting for her (and her husband’s) next chapter. ‘We are harvesting the olives on Wednesday’ so I said I would be there on Tuesday. And so it was that Shakespeare and I set off for what would be a five hour drive (should have been four) to the north, near Toma and half way between Lisbon and Porto. My friends are great lovers of food having both worked in the food business for many years. It was their dream to build a sustainable eco friendly house and farm and here they are at the beginning of building their dream. With help from the knowing locals their trees were harvested for the first time in many years as the land and property had been left uncared for before their recent ownership.
I saw the process and hard work unfold over three days. The nets are placed under the trees and the branches sawn or shaken or sheared to release the olives. Then the olives are sorted removing the twigs. They are gathered and pushed through mesh to clear the woody debris a bit more and then in buckets put through the machine to clean them more. Then they are bagged up to go to the olive press.
I arrive on the mountain at the beginning of October and within a few weeks its chestnut season. I head to the village of Marmelete, and to a ‘magusto’ (chestnut party) . People from miles around gather to celebrate the harvest and when I arrive I see a row of fires and these are not just to keep the hoards of people warm but for cooking the mounds of nuts. They are hot to touch as people scramble in the ashes to grab there stash and eat them from paper cones. This puts a whole other spin on street food. No trucks, no stalls, food from the earth. There is music, games and lots of baked goods. Its a truly local festival and it wraps it great rural arms around me and welcomes me to mountain living.
Now its important to note, not all chestnuts are for eating. Sweet chestnuts as opposed to the horse chestnuts are good for eating and when they fall from the trees you can enjoy them cooked, not raw, and they make for great autumnal ingredients in recipes. High in fibre, vitamin C, magnesium and fatty acids. BBC Good Food explains what to do with chestnuts at home.
At the end of a row of food stalls serving doughy pastries, cakes and breads I’m drawn to the crowd and wonder what all the commotion is about.
And here it is. Guinea pig gambling. The rodent is masked under a tin can, people place their money on a numbered hutch, the big reveal is made and we wait to see which hole the furry thing runs to for shelter, no doubt to hide from the squealing bystanders. I’m not sure this is particularly kind pastime for the creature but I guess its better than the guinea pigs in Cusco, Peru. I remember walking by a restaurant there stopping to admire the cuddly crew of guinea pigs in a delightful enclosed pen only to realise they were kept for cooking and were on the menu for dinner that evening!
On the way home I munch on a malasadas fresh from baking in the open air and where the dough has been stretched and worked to provide this tasty donut Portuguese style. For the full recipe go to Maria and Lisa’s lovely blog celebrating Portuguese food and heritage. Portuguese Diner.
When I was a child my favourite stories were Heidi, Little Women and The Secret Garden. Why they were my favourites I will go into later, but for now I will focus on Heidi. A little girl in Switzerland sent to live with her grandfather on a mountain.
The appeal of the story to my 7 year old self was the idea of running freely up and down green pathways breathing in clean alpine air. If you aren’t familiar with the character, Heidi, she gets to drink fresh goat’s milk and eat and appreciate really good cheese. The descriptive writing from author Johanna Spyri made me want to have the same experience and taste really great dairy. As Heidi acclimatises to mountain living she grows in health and vitality and she gets to build a relationship with her grandfather, make new friends and generally feel better with life.
The story of Heidi came back to me one day a few weeks after relocating from Dubai to the mountains of the Algarve, Portugal. Putting my trainers on to take my dog Shakespeare for a walk I looked up from my laces at the house I’m renting, the slanted wood rafters in the ceiling, the wood burner and the view out from the terrace. In the words of John Lennon, ‘you may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one’ it was like the story I read countless times as a child that imprinted on my mind and here I was living on a mountain, lured by the idea of a clean environment and healthy living. As I look out over a vista of pine, eucalyptus and oak trees I feel a sense of wellbeing. Follow my journey as I embark on a new chapter sharing insights, observations and stories on what moves and motivates, heals and nourishes.
My Top Three Children’s Stories
Heidi, Little Women, The Secret Garden.
They all focus on loss, relationships, transformation, healing and eventually happiness (because every good story has to end this way, right?). And two of the stories are about the healing power of nature (and strangely coincidental, two of these stories see an invalid child walk again!).
Make what you will of my literary and musical choices and the connections I make and I hope you will share your thoughts and experiences with me here too.