Category Archives: women

Lunch at the Amal Women’s Training Centre and Moroccan Restaurant

The other day, after spending the morning in the Jardin Marjorelle in Marrakech taking photos, I hopped into a taxi to Gueliz — the section of the city built by the French during the Protectorate in the early 20th century. I got out at a fork in the road in search of the restaurant run by the Amal Women’s Training Centre. And I got lost. I haven’t yet found an English map of Marrakech and I’m not sure it would do much good as most of the streets have no signs or an occasional sign in Arabic or French.  I think its the kind of place you learn to get around by trial and error. And I’ve been making a lot errors. Moroccans are very helpful when asked for directions — although I’ve been perplexed to twice have people smile and nod and say “droit, droit” while gesturing left, left.

Anyway, after a phone call to the Association Amal, I was given very clear and friendly directions in English to the restaurant — I was only about 20 yards away from the front gate!

The reviews on tripadvisor were almost uniform in their praise at the quality of the cooking at an extremely good value, so I was eager to stop by on this trip and try it out for myself, as well as supporting a cause which is close to my heart.

I found out about the Amal Women’s Training Centre about a year ago when I stumbled upon a blog called “Life in Marrakesh” written by a remarkable woman named Nora who was born and raised in Morocco to American parents: http://moroccomama.wordpress.com/?blogsub=confirming#subscribe-blog.

Nora started up the nonprofit Amal Women’s Training Centre when she felt compelled to do something about Morocco’s marginalized women — the single mothers, widows, and girls who’d never had access to any education. Many of these women are illiterate and have struggled with poverty. The Association Amal’s goal is to improve the quality of life of these disadvantaged women by giving them the tools they need to start supporting themselves, beginning with cooking, hygiene and literacy skills.

Behind the leafy hedge, off the hot and dusty streets of Marrakech, I found a cool and inviting patio shaded by umbrellas and orange trees. It was buzzing with people, and a couple of hopeful cats, and a menu chalked upon a large board tempted me with Moroccan salad, grilled chicken and chocolate mousse for dessert. Except for the chocolate mousse (which made me oh so excited), it wasn’t an unusual menu for Morocco. So I wasn’t expecting what I got.

A girl with a charming smile took my order in perfect French, and a short while later brought over a large bottle of water, a basket of fresh bread and a plate of warm delights that was nothing like any Moroccan salad I’d ever seen before. There were light and flavourful marrow and carrots (sweet!), and tiny herbed potatoes, an aubergine puree, and several filo-wrapped vegetarian parcels. It was a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate, and I ate every last morsel. Even the cats didn’t get a nibble.

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I was excited now. This was far beyond what I’d been expecting. Then the main course arrived — the grilled chicken with chips.

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The chicken was succulent and lemony with an edge of charcoally crispness and sat on warm pureed tomato with grilled chicken livers. It was accompanied by a grilled tomato covered with seasoned breadcrumbs, a silky garlicky aubergine dish and a handful of crisp french fries. This was no simple lunch — this was a feast! And I was enjoying every moment of it. Okay, I relented. The cats got a couple of the chicken livers.

I was getting full, but there’s always, always room for pudding — especially if it’s chocolate. And the mousse arrived, garnished with a sprig of fresh mint. Oh joy!

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I ate it and I was happy. All for 75 dirhams (about £6 or $12 Cdn).

The Amal Women’s Training Centre & Moroccan Restaurant, Angle rues Allal ben Ahmad et Ibn Sina, Quartier l’Hopital Tofail, Marrakech 40000, Morocco

T: 212 604 238860 or 212 524 446896

Follow it on Facebook!  https://www.facebook.com/AmalNonProfit

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Henna

Berberman’s mother comes out into the yard and places a large bag of green herb on a chair to dry. I point to it and raise my eyebrows.

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“Henna!” she says.

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She goes into the kitchen and comes out with a bowl. Then she squats on the ground and begins crumbling the dried leaves into a fine dust.

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Later she makes up a thick paste and covers the palms of her hands and soles of her feet with the wet henna. It dries black. To protect her from djinns (genies).

Henna Party

There was a knock on the door. It was Berberman’s mother with a pretty girl with beautiful henna tattoos covering her hands. “Latifah,” Berber Mama said, pointing at the girl. “Henna.”

We headed up to the roof of the house and sat amongst the building materials as Latifah set to work on me. She loaded up the henna syringe with unctuous black henna ink…

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…and got to work on my leg.

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Quicky, and so deftly, delicate flowers and curlicues appeared on my skin under her deft hand. Then, when she was finished she sprinkled the wet henna with blue and gold dust. Magic.

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She started on my other leg, chatting with Berber Mama in Arabic without missing a dot or a leaf.

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And I watched as she created another artwork on my leg…

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…sprinkling it with more of her fairy dust.

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Then it was on to my hands and my arms…

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Best of all, though, was Latifah’s smile.

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For the most beautiful henna tattoos in Morocco, you’ll find Latifah at the foot of the Cascades d’Ouzoud most days. Tell her Adrienne sent you.

All About Almonds

It’s almond harvesting season here in the Atlas Mountains and I’ve been helping Berberman’s family shell hundred of almonds from their almond trees. It’s not scientific, but it’s effective.

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A rock and a wrench — it does the trick. Always more fun when the neighbours come by to help and chat…

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…dividing up the piles of husks…

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…and fresh, sweet almonds — “Loos” in Berber.

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Irresistible!

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Berber Baking Party

The neighbours were having an engagement party, so Berber Angel and I joined the ebb and flow of Berber women next door as we baked up a storm.

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Habiba poured something fragrant onto a plate. “Qu’est ce que c’est?” I asked Berber Angel. She put some in my hand and motioned for me to chew. Ahhh! Caraway!

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There was much rolling and pounding of dough…

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…and chit chat…

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…and more mixing and stirring…

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…and bread making…

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…and decorating…

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…and cookie-making… (hundreds, I tell you! Berber Angel doesn’t do things half-way!)…

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…and delicious things to eat at the party.

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I’m going to have to get Weight Watchers on speed-dial when I get back home.