Tuesday, 5 August 2014


Relaxing Moroccan Style
As you may know we take a few months off from our Moroccan tours over the summer months, it’s far too hot even for our experienced staff…..and Ramadan covered most of July, so not a good time for our Moroccan staff to be out and about. But in a few weeks we will be fully prepared, loaded and back on tour……with new additional staff on some tours………..talking of new staff.
Many will have met Alice, my Parsons Russell, who for a number of her own personal reasons has decided to take [very] early retirement…… So meet Jimmy, my new side-kick, who after his initial training and adjustment to a forthcoming diet of Tagine, Couscous and Kefta will be raring to go and joining me on tour from September. 
Alice Keeping watch

New Recruit "Jimmy", Digesting A Moroccan Map!

But for now too matters in hand……….As usual, just a few lines about ourselves and what’s available before we move onto Moroccan news and features.
Unless you are very quick there’s not much left for 2014……places that is, we are of course running our usual Moroccan tours from September through and including December. Departing 8th September we have the Eastern Morocco Tour [The Amazigh] running right up to the coastal point where Morocco meets Algeria then south down the border region before west from Figni etc. etc………Coast, forest, desert and some incredible natural wonders. Check-out our blog where we have posted some amazing pictures from earlier tours.  Interested? Just ONE vehicle place. 
One Of Our Escort Vehicles At The Algerian Border
October is the regular C&CC Tour, so enquire and book with them direct.

Clients Relaxing At Erg Chebbie Dunes
Early November we have just ONE vehicle place left on the “Classic Tour”.
December is the ever popular “Christmas Special”; no explanation needed except to say this tour is perfectly timed for an exotic and stunning Christmas and New Year. The tour is FULLY BOOKED so we can only except “Standby” places. That means in the likelihood [often happens] that a client cancels or switches dates we will call you, providing you have of course logged an interest.
Christmas Dinner Table, Moroccan Style.

Full details of our 2015 availability later, but all actual tour dates are roughly the same as 2014. But be aware that at the moment around half of next year’s [2015] Moroccan tours are already fully booked!
I have included a couple of “Motoring” sections in this month’s blog but to get you started and of interest if you are joining one of our tours anytime soon…….At time of writing diesel [gas-oil] cost in Morocco is around £0.69 per litre……not sure but I thing that is about half UK cost at the moment!

Very Cheap Fuel At Algerian Border


OK, this video is of a 4x4 tour of Morocco but I include it here as it shows most of the places we visit during the various tours we run……remember we run 4 tour Moroccan routes during the year……. It’s also one of the better YouTube videos I have seen in a while……..

But remember, whilst Desert Detours visit all [and more] of these locations during our various tours we use roads!! 
Whilst on the subject [sort of]…….If you haven’t already seen it there is quite a good article on Morocco in the Summer/July issue of MMM. Usual omissions and inaccuracies aside it is as I say quite a good article. Take a look.
Summer Issue of MMM
Interestingly, in the same magazine, the proceeding article covers Andalusia …… You could almost say, but it wasn't, that that issue was written with Desert Detours and Andalusia Detours in mind. 

DON’T CHANCE IT…………………….
Hidden Speed Check
Now let’s be honest and clear, serious accidents [even light shunts] involving visiting Motorhomes are actually quite rare in Morocco……at least on our tours, where we emphasize the “Not a race or rally” philosophy.
But again let’s be honest……Motorhome owners do like their chosen tipple. Let’s not get into a debate one way or another suffice to say a little too much Rijco around the campfire, late into the night followed by an early start next morning……you get the picture!   
Morocco is, quite rightly, clamping down heavily on “Drink Driving” and tourist will not be immune from checks, particularly if involved in an “Incident”.  This incentive is just one of a number of innovations being introduced from this summer, and one you may think rather odd for a Muslim country where alcohol is considered "haram". But the move has been in the pipeline for years with Breathalyzer technology being watched and imported, but not used until now. The current government has decided to take action.

Huff n Puff In Morocco
Mohamed Najib Boulif, Deputy Minister for Transport, announced the move to have the Breathalyzer on the roads during this summer season with every likelihood of a permanent extension. The minister made the announcement during the presentation of the action plan for the fight against road accidents, after a meeting of the Inter-ministerial Committee for Road Safety, held recently and chaired by the head of government, Abdelilah Benkirane.

The government intends to accompany the introduction of Breathalyzer with a publicity campaign to raise awareness. At the same time radar traps will be increased and spread to all roads experiencing heavy traffic during the summer. Those who have visited Morocco over recent years will have already noticed a huge increase in “Radar Traps”.

Another key innovation is the action plan in the establishment of medical intervention units in known danger areas. Given that 20% of victims die during their evacuation to hospitals, the goal is to reduce response time in the event of an accident and provide first aid on site.

Morocco has managed to reverse the trend of accidents. The statistics for the first five months of 2014 have revived the hopes of reducing the number of deaths on the roads for the second consecutive year. According to the ministry, the number of fatal accidents recorded during this period a decrease of 0.88%.

Who's Been A Naughty Boy
Rock veteran Robert Plant was stopped for speeding by cops in Morocco in May but was let off after haggling with them over the size of the fine. The former Led Zeppelin front-man was driving through the African nation when his vehicle was pulled over by traffic officers for breaking the speed limit. He was ordered to hand over a fine of $136 (£80) but after chatting to the cops and offering to pay whatever they demanded, he was given a discount and got away with paying just $54 (£32).
Plant told uncut magazine, "I got nicked for speeding in Morocco... Two cops said I was doing whatever it was. I said in French, 'I don't think so. The sun was in your eyes.' They said, 'It's 500 dirham ($136). Go and sit in the car.'... "Finally they called me over into the coolness underneath a stanchion and said, 'How much do you want to give us?' I said, 'How much do you think you should be taking from me?' They held the 500 I'd given them and said, 'Take what you want.' I said, 'No, give me what you think you should.'
"They're looking at each other going, 'He doesn't seem like a bad guy.' So I said, 'The sky is blue and everything in the world is fine' as soon as I said that 300 dirham came straight back. It was great, those moments where you're just playing with people and they're playing with you."

Anything And Everything On A Moroccan Motorway

During and following the so called Arab Spring, Morocco has been quick to implement massive infrastructure projects to provide employment and to prepare for future needs. One major thrust was in the road building programme that saw the Kingdom well on the way to building an additional 1800 kilometers of highways [motorways].
During a session of the Moroccan parliament, the Moroccan Minister of Transport and Logistics, Mr. Aziz Rabbah, announced that Morocco has a serious plan to create an additional 1,800 kms of highways with work to commence before the end of 2014.
The plan for 1800 kms of highways aims to improve road access to key economic cities of the country and in particular Fes, Meknes, Marrakech, Safi, Beni Mellal, Tangier, Nador, and Guercif. It is also intended to strengthen the link between Agadir and the southern region.
At present Morocco has 1,511 kms of highways, but the number is expected to reach 1,800 by the end 2015 and the additional increase will bring the total to around 3,600 km.
Good news for the visiting drivers who will be able to rapidly link areas and regions……..Yes, some visitors do believe that their “Moroccan Experience” begins and ends around Agadir, sad really!


And Again......

An iconic piano featured in Rick's Cafe Americain in the 1942 Hollywood classic "Casablanca" is expected to be the highlight of a sale of film memorabilia in New York in November, Bonham’s auction house said on Monday.
The upright piano is one of two from the film in which actor and singer Dooley Wilson sang "As Time Goes By," the signature song for lovers played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
The instrument from the Casablanca cafe owned by Bogart's character Rick is expected to sell for seven figures when it goes under the hammer as part of the sale by Bonham’s and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on November 24 in New York. The piano that was shown in flashback scenes in Paris in the film fetched $602,500 when it was sold at auction in 2012.
All of the 30 "Casablanca" items in the sale are from a private collector. In addition to the piano, the auction will include interior and exterior doors from the Casablanca nightclub where Bogart and Bergman meet again and rekindle their romance. Signed photographs by the film's cast members, the final draft of the original screenplay and passports and papers created for the movie will also be sold. The auction will also include a gown worn by actress Rita Hayworth in 1946's "Gilda" and Barbra Streisand costumes from the films "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," "The Way We Were" and "Yentl."
"We have some great pieces from Casablanca," said Catherine Williamson, the director of entertainment memorabilia at Bonham’s.

WAKE UP!!!!!
In a tradition dating back to the days before alarm clocks, drummers [D’kak] awoke the faithful during the holy month of Ramadan, so that residents have time to eat a large meal before the day-long fast. Sadly this is a tradition that is all but dying out and is now in truth mostly practiced by just a few who are more interested in the few Dirhams it brings in……and why not!

No exception is Carli, a D’kak drummer, as was his father and grandfather. During Ramadan he walks through alleys and byways of Fes every morning performing his traditional function. It’s a custom that is not appreciated by everyone in the neighborhood. 

On one particular night, he caught an earful from a young mother whose baby had been startled awake by the beat. And, he reports, he’s been doused by an occasional bucket of water dumped from the upper floors of buildings……….

But such incidents do not diminish Carli’s flare for the theatrical. He belts out Ramadan songs with uncommon gusto, given the early hour of the day. And he’s a sight to be seen, wearing traditional dress and banging on a drum with lights that rotate in rainbow colors.

However there are signs of a revival, perhaps for those yearning the old ways.  For some the Ramadan drummers were and still are one of the most important markers of the holy month of Ramadan, helping people wake up for the predawn meal by drumming during Ramadan nights. Sadly for others they prefer using their mobile phones or alarm clocks to wake up for sahur, finding the noise of drumming unnecessary and unpleasant. However, the existence of Ramadan drummers bears utmost significance for the continuation of a tradition dating back to the old Ramadan days. In older times Ramadan drummers……..who were also regarded as night guards of the streets …… were on duty for the purpose of waking Muslims up for sahur [the predawn meal before fasting] in a pleasant way. Each day they would recite different poems accompanied by drumming.
Furthermore, being a Ramadan drummer was not an easy job since playing drums during Ramadan was a special tradition handed down from father to son, so the drummers were mostly from the same family. At the end of Ramadan, the drummers would visit the homes of the people to get tips for the service they provided during Ramadan.

Not So Bitter

Right, a big ingredient, recipe and cooking topic and one that covers a fantastic but little used item [in the UK anyway], the lemon, but a lemon not as you know it. Try this once and you will be hooked……….
If you close your eyes, you can imagine you are wending your way through the crowded streets of the Kasbah, with the camels and the open-air markets and the heady aroma of tagines cooking over charcoal fires. A bite of preserved lemon can do that to you, transport you to a land you have never seen or perhaps back to a land you once called home. It is the secret ingredient to cooking throughout North Africa but is especially associated with Morocco. Along with couscous, it is one of the foods that define the entire region. Preserved lemons are one of those ingredients that, the first time you try it, you ask, “What is that taste?” It is definitely like a lemon, but it has been wonderfully intensified. It’s like a Super Lemon.
Preserved lemons are readily available at Middle Eastern groceries, international groceries and specialty stores, but why buy them when you can make them yourself? All it takes are lemons, salt and patience. You’ll need patience because it takes a month for the salt to work its magic on the lemons. But during those four weeks, your anticipation builds. You think about the taste that will await you when the lemons are ready, and you start planning how to use them. You might even start to think that you are building them up too much in your mind……….Don’t worry about it. Preserved lemons exceed your expectations.
Here’s a basic recipe: Cut four lemons into quarters from the top without slicing all the way through. Pack table salt into each lemon, and place them into a sterilized nonmetallic jar. Cover with extra lemon juice, salt and any herbs, such as thyme, before sealing and refrigerating for one month.
Preserved lemons create strong pops of flavor anywhere they are added. They are the ultimate condiment in that they work as an accent in support of the main part of the dish. They also are incredibly versatile. Their skin can be used to add zip to hummus (typically, only the skin is used; the pulp usually is discarded). They could add an unforeseen element to grilled vegetables or be included in stunning vinaigrette. They can add zest, as it were, to a salad or even be used in dessert. Some local restaurants offer them on pizzas.
But if there is one dish to which preserved lemons are forever connected, it is chicken tagine from Morocco. Traditionally, tagine (the food) is cooked in a tagine, an earthenware pot shaped like an upside-down funnel. The tagine pot is said to produce the best flavor in a tagine, but they can be pricey and have few or no other uses. In their place, you can use a heavy skillet with a lid or even a shallow casserole dish that is suitable for the top of a stove.
A chicken tagine is basically a stew, with the most tender and delicious meat. What makes it a tagine are the spices: garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and coriander, all cooked over a bed of thinly sliced red onions. All it needs are a couple of elements to provide a profile-altering counterpoint. A couple of handfuls of purple olives add salt and visual appeal, and the preserved lemons yield delicious bursts of piquant lemon flavor.
For dessert, I was blown away by the idea of a food website’s astonishing idea. It used preserved lemons in a semifreddo and cooled down the tartness with simple basil syrup.
A semifreddo is a soft but frozen dessert, sort of like a frozen mousse if the mousse were partly made of ice cream. Adding preserved lemons to it is genius.
To make a semifreddo, you make whipped cream (it’s essential that it’s homemade) and add it to whipped egg whites, and then you gently fold in a flavoring. In this case, the flavoring comes from lemon zest and a preserved lemon. If you wanted a fuller flavor, you could use the juice from the pulp as well as the skin. I was looking for subtlety in my semifreddo, so I went with the skin alone…………..It was like eating a lemony cloud.

Yield: 4 servings
1 teaspoon saffron threads
3 garlic cloves, minced
11/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 (31/2-pound) chicken, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium red onions, sliced lengthwise
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon lime juice
4 tablespoons chopped coriander, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 preserved lemons
1/2 cup purple Moroccan or Greek olives
Lightly toast saffron in a dry, small, heavy skillet over moderately low heat, shaking skillet, until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small dish, let cool then crumble with fingers.
With a mortar and pestle, mash chopped garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a paste.
In a large bowl, toss chicken with oil, onions, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and lime juice, 3 tablespoons of the coriander the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper and reserved saffron.
Separate the chicken from the onions, and spread the spiced onions across the bottom of a 12-inch tagine, 12-inch heavy, covered skillet or a shallow, covered casserole. Place the chicken on top. Cut the preserved lemons into quarters and scrape the pulp from the peel. Coarsely chop the pulp, and sprinkle over the chicken. Cut the peel into 1/2-inch pieces, and reserve.
Add 3/4 cup water to the tagine, skillet or casserole, cover and bring to a simmer. Cook 30 minutes, until chicken is almost cooked through. Check occasionally toward the end of cooking time to be sure tagine is not dry, adding more water if necessary to keep meat from burning and sticking to pot. Add olives and simmer, covered, 10 minutes longer until chicken is cooked through. Just before serving, sprinkle with preserved lemon peel, remaining cilantro and salt to taste.
Yield: 4 servings
1 preserved lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small tomato, cut into chunks
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon (2 pinches) Old Bay or other seafood seasoning
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
Scrape pulp away from skin of preserved lemon, and discard pulp. Chop skin into 1/4-inch squares and reserve.
In a large heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute (toss occasionally to keep garlic from burning). Add tomato, wine, Old Bay, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes, occasionally pressing down on tomatoes with spoon or spatula to help soften them.
Add shrimp and reserved preserved lemon skin. Cook stirring occasionally, until shrimp is fully cooked, about 3 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve immediately.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1 small preserved lemon
Zest of 1/2 lemon (not preserved)
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 egg whites
1 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, about 10 leaves
Spray an 8- or 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray and line it with aluminum foil or 2 large pieces of plastic wrap, which hang over the sides of the pan.
Thoroughly rinse the preserved lemon and scrape the pulp away from the skin. If you want more of a lemon taste, extract the juice from the pulp by pushing it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Discard the remaining pulp. Finely chop the skin.

Make simple lemon syrup by placing the chopped skin, the extracted juice (if using), the lemon zest, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat just until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the lemon pieces; retain the lemon pieces and the syrup.
Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Set aside in the refrigerator.
In a clean mixer bowl, mix the egg whites on high until they begin to hold a shape. Lower the speed to medium-low, and slowly pour in the lemon syrup. Turn the speed back to high and beat until the whites are glossy and doubled in volume, about 5 or 6 minutes.
Carefully fold in the lemon pieces and then the whipped cream. Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and cover with the overhanging plastic wrap. Freeze at least 6 hours or overnight (it will keep in the freezer for up to 3 days).
While the semifreddo is freezing, make basil syrup by placing the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the basil and cup water into a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Allow to come to room temperature, blend in a blender until the syrup is flecked with green.
To serve, invert the semifreddo onto a serving platter and remove the plastic. Slice into thick planks, and drizzle with the basil syrup.