A few weeks ago, my buddy Jeffy showed up for the holiday we call "Bah, Humbug! Day," with a heavy, beautifully-wrapped package from Vroman's. (If you don't know Vroman's, you're not a book lover. If you're ever in Pasadena, go there.)
Inside the package? Paula Wolfert's The Food of Morocco. Now, here's what I know about Morocco: The closest I ever got was a trip to southern Spain, when Dubya was president, and the U.S. had embarked on our latest imperialist invasion. (No, I'm not bitter about #43. Why would you think that? Unless you read my other blog.) Americans were not advised to visit Morocco, even though it was mere miles away, across the Strait of Gibraltar. We did make it to Gibraltar, where we ate some English stuff, and the monkeys scared the crap out of my daughter. But I digress.
So, the book became a totem: How do you make Moroccan food? Jeffy said: "Let's cook some next week!" I said "Sure!" He said "Let's make this!" I said "Not a chance!" (Seriously, "this" is called pastilla and it takes three days. I'm ambitious, but not that ambitious.)
I settled for an Orange, Leafy Green and Date Salad, Roasted Beet Salad with Cinnamon, and the pièce de résistance, Chicken Smothered in Olives. BTW, I have learned that French is Morocco's unofficial second language, so it's appropriate to say "pièce de résistance."
Here's another Moroccan saying: وكان هذا الغذاء لا يصدق ، وخاصة بالنسبة لطبخ المغربي لأول مرة.
It means: "The food was incredible, especially for a first-time Moroccan cook."
Now, the interesting thing about Moroccan food is that it reflects a myriad of influences. Given the country's location - prime fodder for young conquerers with land-lust - and its diverse population (ever wonder where Berber carpets were invented?), there's a little of this and a little of that in just about everything. It's like the Moroccans sent the crazy conquerers and carpet-sellers on their way, and kept all the precious things that made their food so delicious.
Which brings us to the wine, which came to us courtesy of our other dinner guests, neighbors S. and M. (I know what you're thinking. And those are really their initials.) When I said "Moroccan!" they said "What wine?" and I said "I have no Moroccan idea!" So they brought a wine that has a little of everything: Banshee 2009 Mordecai.
The brilliance of the Banshee is that the winemakers collect precious small lots of wine from some of California's best vineyards, and blend them together into a Rhone-influenced, vibrant, spicy blend. While their actual sources are secret and mysterious--genie in a bottle anyone?-- the resulting wine is not. It's a bit bold, a little exotic, and possibly dangerously addictive.
Just how I imagine Morocco to be.