Monday, September 27, 2010

Comfort Cookies

A couple of hours ago Jon announced that he was in need of some comfort food and suggested that we make chocolate chip cookies with the M&Ms my Uncle Bob and Aunt Sandy sent us a short while ago (all the way from Alaska!). The weather is starting to get cool so it was the perfect time for some cookie making. As you'll see, the recipe makes quite a lot of cookies, so we'll be taking them along to Rabat for the COS conference this week to share. Speaking of which, since we'll be in Rabat we won't be posting any new blog posts for about a week. Enjoy the photos (and the recipe at the end of the post)!

Chocolate Chip (or M&M) Cookie Recipe

2 1/4 cups flour
1 t salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips or M&Ms (we used 1 cup and it was plenty!)
1 t baking soda (we used baking powder, because Lisa Payne said it was okay)
1 c butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a sm bowl. Beat butter, white sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in a lg mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chips and nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9-11 min or until golden brown. Let stand for 2 min; remove to cool completely.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

To Eat Meat, or Not to Eat Meat

That is the question.

-note- The photos that appear in this post are of the chicken pot pie that Jon lovingly made earlier this week. It feed the two of us for two meals and was delicious! See the bottom of this post to find the recipe he used for the crust (also great for other pies, like apple).

This blog post was inspired by a invitee couple who are both vegetarian/vegan. They asked, "Based on your experience, do you believe we will have options other than meat, including the time with host families? Just curious to see if you think this will be a great source of frustration for us."

As far as food in general is concerned, Morocco is probably one of the best Peace Corps countries to be sent. Unlike some other countries (like in Sub-Saharan Africa) we have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. A wider variety than in Ohio in fact. And with the exception of cheese, which is available in larger urban areas, you can find almost everything else you could want in or near even the smallest sites; bread, milk, yogurt, butter, olive oil, eggs, meat, beans, lentils, rice, spaghetti, plenty of spices, dried fruit, nuts, etc.

So the short answer is, yes, there are many other options other than meat, and as a married couple you will probably be pressured to eat at other people's houses less often than a single volunteer would once you are living on your own. Though Jon and I are not vegetarians ourselves, we eat meat (usually chicken) rarely (maybe once a month or so) and instead get the majority of our protene from the before mentioned beans, lentils, nuts, eggs, and milk.

But lets talk about home stay. For about four months you will be living with two different families. Yes, you can have Peace Corps explain to the families that you are vegetarian/vegan and what you do and do not eat (because you probably wont be able to yourselves with your limited speaking abilities at first), but it might be difficult for the families to fully understand because vegetarians/vegans don't really exist in this culture.

There are many reasons why people are vegetarian/vegan and you might want to examine the reasons why you are. Is it because of animal cruelty, global warming, religion, you don't like the idea of eating something that was once alive? And also think about how long you've been a vegetarian/vegan. The reason you might want to do this is because you might want to consider eating meat while you are here, at least for those four months when you are in home stay and going through a lot of other stresses such as learning the language, living with strangers, living in another culture, being stared at, lack of privacy and anonymity, and no mater what, you will likely have an array of GI problems on top of all of this.

That said, Peace Corps tries to be as supportive and accomidating as possible to vegetarian/vegan volunteers. Eating meat every day wont be a requirment of your survice, but to fully exsperience the culture, and food is a large part of culture, you might want to at least try it, depending on how you feel about being vegetarian/vegan. If you do decide to "go for it" and eat meat while your here you might want to start getting your body used to it ahead of time so that it is less of a shock. If you decide that you just can't do it, for whatever reason, know that you're not alone, there are other vegetarian/vegan volunteers out there and that you will be supported as much as possible by Peace Corps staff. There is even an entire section in our Peace Corps cook book dedicated to vegetarian main dishes!

I hope that this post has been helpful in some way to anyone out there who is a vegetarian/vegan and considering joining Peace Corps. I recommend seeking out volunteers who are currently serving the the country that you have been invited to who are actually vegetarian/vegan, as they will probably be better resources. You can ask your recruter to put you in touch with either current or returned PCVs.

Now for that recipe
Picture Perfect Pie Crust Recipe

1 1/8 c flour
8 T cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 t sugar (optional, best for sweet pies but omit if using for a savory pie)
1/2 t salt
3 T cold water

Combine the flour, salt ,and sugar, then add the butter and blend using your hands until the butter is distributed throughout and the mixture looks like cornmeal. Add the cold water and form into a dough, if it is too dry add more water. Make the dough into a ball, wrap in a plastic bag and flatten it. Place the dough in the freezer for 10 mins to aid in rolling. Roll the dough into a large circle and about 10 inches in diameter, on a large surface, dusting liberally with flour to avoid sticking. Use any ragged edges to repair tears. When finished rolling, place the dough onto the pie plate, press it firmly to the bottom and prick it all over with a fork. If you want to pre-bake the dought, place for 15-20 mmins or until brown in a 350 F oven.

New Jewelry with Paper Beads

Ever since the women at the Al Falah coop learned how to make paper beads out of recycled magazines earlier this month, they've been going bead crazy! I'm so happy (and surprised) how quickly this project has taken off with them, and with only a minimal amount of guidance from me.

If there's one thing you can say about these ladies it's that they work great under pressure. They've been working on finishing up all their UFOs (unfinished projects) and making necklaces and bracelets out of their new paper beads so that I can take them to Rabat and hopefully sell them to COSing volunteers.

This past week Fatima even traveled to Khemisset to seek out jewelry closures. Way to go Fatima!

The following pictures were taken yesterday as the ladies worked on putting the finishing touches on their beaded creations.

Related Posts:

Fun With Paper Beads!
Fun, Easy, and Cheap Jewelry Projects

Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvest Moon +1 day

Look closely for Jupiter...

And one of his moons...

Fall Inventory Update

Now that the Close of Service conference is just 4 days away, the cooperative women are putting the finishing touches on their new products for fall.

Embroidered Greeting Cards
These beautiful cards made of hand made paper are 8 x 8 cm and embroidered in the signature Fesi style that I've only seen here in Morocco. The cards have an insert of white paper (which is also recycled) for ease of writing and come with a hand made paper envelope.

iPod Nano Pouches
These fun pouches fit the Nano perfectly and are supper handy when you're on the move with the strap you wear around your neck. You can even tuck the pouch under your shirt for added security if wearing your iPod in public.

iPod Touch Pouches
This pouch fits the iPod touch perfectly, but can also double as a case for a small digital camera. It comes with a long strap that can be worn over the shoulder for convenience and security. Plus, it's way cooler-looking that those ugly camera cases you buy in the store.

Related Posts:
New Inventory for Fall, 2010 and More New Inventory for Fall, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Get Organized

This post is about organizing your workspace on a budget. In my experience, us Small Business Development volunteers often work with groups (cooperatives, associations, individuals) who's work spaces are often dirty, disorganized, and even moldy. Some volunteers are able to secure grants to renovate work and showrooms, like this beautifully redone showroom in Ain Leuh that Randy has been working on.

This is a great option for towns and villages, even small ones, who see a good amount of traffic from tourists or locals willing to buy their products. But for some groups this isn't the case. They still need to keep finished projects clean for future craft fairs and know where to find their tools, but making it look super nice is not that important. So why not use what you have to get organized?

For the last two years I've cringed at my coops' "method" of organization. Basically, they have a big heavy desk with 4 missing drawers out of six where they keep everything from paperwork (which they have tons of) to crochet hooks and knitting needles, to embroidery thread, to pens, and so on and so on. Finished projects get "displayed" on tables along one wall where they gather dust and get grimy, while some of the new tools and materials that I've introduced in the last two years (paper making supplies, magazines, craft fair displays, etc.) have no home at all.

So on Tuesday, I decided to do something about it. I first had the idea of making a sort of peg board where they could hang tools from nails and have easy access to them. But when I was cleaning my house this Tuesday I decided to go a different route and use just stuff that I already had.

We had a very ugly, kinda rickety, bamboo shelf from the previous volunteer that became completely moldy before we even moved out of home stay. Though we tried multiple times to scrub it with bleach, we just couldn't keep the mold at bay. So it ended up living on our roof, exposed to all elements for about a year and a half until I finally decided that it was "weathered" enough and brought it back inside to use.

With the shelf as my base for the "organization station" I took some scraps of vinyl from the Marché Maroc banner and made shelf liners. We had a few plastic baskets that we don't really use, so I put one on the top shelf and filled it with empty glass food jars that the women can use to separate their new paper beads. Finally, I cut the tops off of four plastic bottles and secured the bottom cup-like containers to the bamboo frame to store things like the for mentioned crochet hooks, knitting needles, pens, rulers, scissors, etc.

It was really easy to make and got a lot of laughs when I took it to the Artisana, but it does the job so I don't really care what it looks like.

I want to show the members of the coop that it doesn't take a lot of money to get organized and I'd really like to see them come up with stuff like this on their own, but that might be a bit in the future.

If you are a volunteer facing an organization problem I urge you to try to find creative and inexpensive solutions.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More New Inventory for Fall, 2010

Just thought I'd share some more pictures of recently completed crochet coin purses from the Al Falah Cooperative. If you are a 2nd year YD or SBD volunteer you will have a chance to purchase these and other products from AL Falah at the COS conference next week.

Here's a coin purse in a really nice maroon and camel.

And here is a double pocket coin purses in the same color pallet. I just love the puffy quality of this style of crochet, it gives it some extra texture.

Here's a couple new purses with the Tifinakht letter "Z." These would be really great for the tween in your life.

And here is a stack of unfinished coin purses. I can't wait to see these completed!

Related posts:
New Inventory for Fall 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Inventory For Fall 2010

Here are some of the crochet coin purses that the Al-Falah Womens' Cooperative have been working on recently. I will bring them with me to our COS conference and medicals, and they will be available for sale at that time.

Cell phone purses, featuring a berber letter on one side and various geometric shapes on the other, are only 30 DH each.

Small round coin purses, featuring designs on both sides will also be sold for just 30 DH each.

And two-pocket round coin purses will be sold for 40 DH each.

*Please note that some of these photos feature purses that do not yet have zippers attached. All coin purses and cell phone purses will have a zippered closure.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Top ten memories of Morocco: Emily

Yesterday, Jon posted his top ten memories of Morocco, and wanted me to do the same. I will say that we came up with our lists completely independently of each other and I haven't yet read what he's written, (which is killing me) and that's why I was so motivated to come up with my "top ten" as soon as possible. It was a little hard to narrow it down to ten, and most of my favorite memories happened over several days, weeks, or months. I've arranged my list in roughly chronological order.

Our first Eid Kabir

For our first Eid Kabir we were still in home stay. We had seen pictures of Eid kabirs from other volunteers, so we had an idea of what to expect...the sheep slaughter in particular. The morning of Eid felt very much like any big holiday back in the States. We got dressed up and went over to Rachida's mother's house to visit and eat sweets then went back home to prepare for the festivities. The sheep was brought to the roof were we had the chance to look it in the eye for a few hours, knowing it's fate. Our host mom, Rachida, started the mijmare (small grill) that we'd use to cook the organ meat right after the slaughter. The mijmare is fueled by charcoal and is quite tricky to get going. As luck would have it it started to rain, so we moved indoors; grill, sheep and all. Since a woman isn't allowed to kill the sheep and our host brother was either still too young or inexperienced or both, a man came over to do the job. The sheep was killed over the bathroom toilet, so that it's blood would flow down the drain. We all gathered around the doorway to watch, but I started to feel sick to my stomach so I turned away after a while. After the sheep was skinned and the organs removed, our brother started grilling them over the mijmar in the living room, filling the house with smoke and causing our smoke detector to go off. My eyes became so irritated from the smoke that I had to stand by an open window. The organ meat was wrapped in fat, seasoned with salt, pepper, and cumin, and eaten with bread. It's was one of the most delicious meals I've ever had here!

Trip to Merzouga and the Todra Gorge with fellow PCVs

This was a trip that happened fairly early on in our service, in March 2009. It was our first time in the southern region of Morocco, so the landscape alone was something completely foreign to us. It was a pretty typical trip I guess you can say and we did the same things that many other volunteers have done. We rode camels in Merzouga to a Berber camp site were we spent the night and climbed at least part way up the big dune and looked at the stars. In Todra we hiked up to the top of the gorge where we were rewarded with a beautiful view (and Jon was rewarded with a shoe shine, but that's a different story). It was a great opportunity to see the parts of Morocco that I tend to enjoy more...the smaller towns and rural areas. They beat Marrakesh and Fes any day. There was a core group of four volunteers that went, with others meeting up and leaving along the way, but always great company.

Spring Camp 2009

It was a crazy week of teaching English and art classes, playing unusual games, dancing, getting up early and going to bed WAY too late. Some highlights include;
One very intense game of ultimate Frisbee
Seeing one of the girls from my English class singing "The Hokie Pokie" to herself as she walked to lunch.
Singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" at the talent show with the other PCV counselors.
Learning circus tricks along with the kids
Attending one of the aerobics classes with all the teenage girls
Dressing up as a pirate for the costume party
Attending the awards ceremony the last night that lasted until 2 in the morning!

Paper making project
The paper making project has been an odyssey. From coming up with the idea, to constructing the mold and deckle, to gathering the materials, to teaching the women, to coming up with products to make out of's been a long long process. To read more about the paper making project click here and here.

Learning to speak and write in a different language

Learning Darija was one of the hardest things I've ever done and something I'm glad that I had the opportunity to do. By the time I reached my mid 20s I thought I'd never have the chance to learn a second language, but here I am. I give all the credit of any language success to final tutor, Salima, who started teaching me in June, 2009. She was patient, persistent, and a great teacher. She taught me how to write in Arabic Script, and that really helped me with my pronunciation. Plus, it's really cool to be able to write things for my ladies and decipher signs. Though I feel self conscience about my language skills most of the time, it's nice when a complete stranger overhears me speaking to a shop keeper and strikes up a conversation with me because she can't believe how well I speak Arabic, which happened yesterday.

Day at the beach near Asilah

On a long holiday weekend during Ramadan in August 2009, Jon and I met up with several other volunteers, mostly from our staj, in Asilah, a coastal town in the north. On one of the days we took a trip to a place called Paradise Beach, just a few miles from town. We arrived early in the morning to find the most expansive, empty beach I've ever seen, and since it was the first or second day of Ramadan, it was practically empty. The tide was out and the sand was smooth and free of trash. We spent the day exploring the rocks, chasing seagulls, riding the waves on boogie boards, and lounging around under sun umbrellas reading.

Ain LeuH
This might be cheating, but I have three wonderful memories of Ain LeuH. The first was back in August, 2009 when we went there to participate in an Environment camp. The camp had many challenges but it was a great opportunity to meet with other volunteers and work with some really great kids. It was also when we first discovered Ain LeuH's treasure trove of blackberries and I made jam for the first time ever.

The Next time we went to Ain LeuH was for Christmas, 2009. It was pouring down rain on Christmas Eve as we made our way there from taxi to taxi. By the time we arrived we were soaked to the bone, but we were greatly rewarded. Randy's house (the volunteer who lives there) was warm, cozy and welcoming. Lisa and two of her friends from the US came as well and we spent the next two days making and eating delicious food, listening to Christmas music, and playing Scrabble. I made hand-knit Christmas gifts for everyone there and Santa even came and filled our stockings with treats. It was the most low-key, unstressfull Christmas I ever had, and although I missed my family back home, it was a wonderful experience. The picture below of Jon and Randy was taken the day after Christmas, as you can see, it ended up being a beautiful weekend.

Most recently we went back to Ain LeuH two more times in the last month for workshops and more blackberry picking. The site is beautiful and there is nothing better than getting up at 6 o'clock to pick some berries before anyone is out and the sun gets hot.

Marché Maroc
This again is a bit of a cheating response because there have been three Marché Maroc craft fairs, and I've enjoyed all of them. The best part of these craft fairs was seeing how much Fatima and Hefida grew and learned from their experiences attending them and how much fun they had each time. My work is a very important part of what I'm doing here (well, duh), but sometimes it's hard to pin point a specific time that was "memorable." It's the little things that happen on a daily basis that seem to add up, but the craft fairs gave me the chance to look back on my work here and see the bigger picture. For more on Marché Maroc, check out this post.

Learning Fesi embroidery
From early on in my service, I have been particularly interested in a specific style of embroidery made here in Morocco called "Fesi" Embroidery. Shortly before our Mid Service Medicals in December, 2009, I decided to ask the women at the cooperative to teach me how to do it. I do a lot of mini workshops with the women to teach them different crochet techniques, so it was nice to change roles and be the student for a while. Since my work primarily consists of product development and quality control, it was very helpful for me to learn the "right" way to do this embroidery and better understand the labor that's involved. Since I'm about the same age as the coop members I think it was good for them to see that I'm not afraid to try new things and therefore it's never too late for them to learn something new. In fact, after I started doing my embroidery sampler one of the coop members who didn't do fesi embroidery decided that she wanted to learn too! It took about four months, but I finally completed the sampler. For more on Fesi embroidery check out this and this.

Teaching crochet in the bled

This past July I had the opportunity to travel down south and teach a crochet workshop in the bled (small community in the countryside, in this case about 500 people strong). The site doesn't even have transportation all the way to it, so we had to walk in from the nearest town, which takes about an hour. Though most of the area is dry and desert-like, the town is in the middle of an oasis. It was an extremely quiet place with all mud-brick houses. It's basically what a lot of people think of when they think "Morocco." The two sisters that I taught were very excited to learn the two-color crochet technique that I went there to teach. The workshop was supposed to last two days, and be about 2-3 hours a day. It ended up spanning four days with our average day being 8 or 9 hours! It was a really intense time and we all learned a lot. I really enjoyed how welcome the sisters and the rest of their family made me feel. It was very easy to joke around and talk with them. On my last day I even learned how to make cannon bread, which is a specific type of bread that I've only seen made in that area.