Saturday, 19 October 2013

It's finally here!

It's true, we actually did produce a food and travel book. Our endless excuse of "working on the book" wasn't just an excuse to get out of all the other things we didn't want to do, look here it is, the first copy that has just landed in our hands! 

Thank you everyone for all your support! Next time you're in your local book store have a look at our creation- Colour of Maroc.

Or have a look online at

From Morocco to Bondi Beach.

Sophia dapping the love from above.

Recipes and Riads.

Easy Summer desserts.

The local boys share their doughnut recipe with us.

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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

We're back!

We must apologise for the long period of silence. Finishing our Colour of Maroc, a celebration of food and life book has been much harder than we first anticipated.

Since arriving back in Australia late last year, after 3 months travelling Morocco shooting with respected chefs, family and locals, we have been working furiously translating recipes (from French & Arabic), testing every one of those (the traditional ones from Sophia’s family to the more contemporary ones from the chefs of palaces), writing and sorting through thousands of images.

What page goes where?

Jane Hann, our food stylist and recipe writer who travelled with us on part of our journey, has even developed some simple modern recipes for us based on what inspired her during our trip. We also jumped straight into designing the book with Reuben Crossman (award winner book designer) and he has helped us bring our vision to life (with a few 3am finishes). Unfortunately our blogging and social media was put on the back burner because the book had to take priority- but finally it is done.

When first set out on our journey we had the support of a publisher but not far into our trip (due to restructuring within the publisher and a change of ownership) we unfortunately lost that support. It was a scary position to be in, having only just begun our Moroccan adventure and now being faced with the reality of finishing producing the book alone, having to finance the whole project ourselves and not having any guidance behind us from an experienced team.

But, determined to finish, we decided to push on and complete the project by ourselves, it’s been a rollercoaster of emotion with many ups and downs but we made it! To put the cherry on the cake, during the last month of finalising the book, we even landed Murdoch Books as our publisher. They jumped straight in and helped iron out the last few creases before sending our book straight off to the printers and we should receive a few advance copies any day now!

This is our hardcover book. Look out for it!

So get ready, Colour of Maroc, a celebration of food & life will be released in bookshops across Australia on 25th October. Not only that, but we will also be releasing our own culinary argan oil sourced direct from the finest producer in Morocco. Both will be available on our website (you can head over there now for a quick preview of the book) which  will also have had a major overhaul by the 25th October.

Also, follow our updates on facebook

We are so excited, we hope you are too!

Sophia & Rob.

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Friday, 18 January 2013

The Slap

Every country has a set of social guidelines and etiquette. Some countries are very similar to each other and some are vastly different. For instance, in general Australians are quite informal when greeting each other, even if that person is a stranger. Hi, hello, G'day, how are ya?... the list goes on. In Morocco however 9 times out of 10 when making a formal greeting you will say 'Salaam alaykum' (peace be upon you) to which the other person will respond "Alaykum Salaam" (and onto you peace). That part is pretty easy and within a few days you've no excuse for getting it wrong.

Some things though aren't that straight forward, they require you to stop and think before acting or speaking, some may even require you to break habits that are usually perfectly normal actions when back on home turf. Over time though you eventually get used to following these new and slightly obscure rituals, of course every now and then you may make a mistake, and when you do, most of the time anyway, your new hosts, friends and aquaintances are more than understanding. Most of the time.

After spending a night in the mountain town of Imilchil we loaded the car ready for a drive through the dramatic valleys and gorges of the Atlas Mountains. As we came towards the outskirts of town there was a local man dressed in a vivid blue gown and white turbin trying to hitch a ride by the road. We stopped and loaded him in. "Salaam alaykum" he greeted me with, "Alaykum Salaam" I confidently replied, a big glowing smile quickly appearing on his face. That was the end of the conversation for me but it didn't matter. My new aquaintance had a kind twinkle in his eye, I could already sense that this little journey down the road was going to be interesting.

Our new passenger's named Moha is the man who recites the prayer over the microphone that can be heard blasting from the speakers of the local mosque regularly throughout the day and night, a truly familiar sound for any traveller who has ever visited an Islamic country before. For Sophia the rythmic chorus of the daily prayer is a memory she holds dear with her childhood in Morocco and within minutes they were both reciting it together at the top of their lungs, it was like an arabic duet being performed for a low budget episode of Moroccan Idol. Verse one complete and our plans had immediately changed. We would now stop at the nearby markets with Moha to buy some dates and fruits before continuing on to his home in the next town to meet his wife Eto and his 4 daughters who would prepare lunch for us.

Moha lives in a very humble traditional mud brick home, no running water, no electricity and no furniture except a small table in the centre of the room. The house iswell maintained and still has a homely feel even in its simplicity although I dread to think what it must be like sleeping there on the floor through the depths of winter. Moha's wife and children seemed genuinely pleased to meet us and the girls quickly rushed us off to see the animals out back before showing us how they make their bread and their lban (sour fermented milk) and butter. I snapped a few pics but I could sense that they weren't yet comfortable with me capturing images of their faces, my camera made its way back to my pocket.

Lunch was served, lamb, tomato, potato and carrot tagine. Soph refused the lban, she's never been big on dairy but as the small jug, rimmed with flies, made it round to me I couldn't wait to try, it looked so fresh and pure unlike any of the pasturised milk served to us in plastic bottle back home. Whoooooo! Damn that's sour, that was going to take some getting used to! The tagine looked delicious. I could already see Moha and his family pushing the small available amounts of meat in the dish over to our sides of the plate, no matter how little they have Moroccans are always extremely generous. I stood up and snapped a pic of our beautiful meal before sitting down, grabbing some bread and getting stuck in.

WHACK! Holy shit, I just got slapped on my hand by the 13-year old sitting next to me! There she was shaking her head and waiving her left hand in the air, I immediately knew what I had done wrong. In a country where modern bathrooms equipped with flushing water and toilet paper are few and far between, one hand is used for "cleaning" and the other is used for "everything else". Obviously I hadn't put the "everything else" hand into the food...... Morocco sure wasn't going to be a forgiving country for a left-handed man. Probably not the sort of place to find a set of left-handed scissors.
A quick stop at the local markets.

The elben making machine.
Keep your left hand in your pocket!

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Monday, 10 December 2012

Lakes of tears

There are few places in Morocco exempt for holding their own mystical local legends. Centuries old stories that blur the line of reality and fiction, intertwined with history, myth and folktales to create a narration of Moroccan national identity.

High in the Atlas mountains, as the soft delicate evening light washed over the harsh and rugged landscape surrounding a town called Imilchil, a local shepherd named Hassan was making his way down the mountain with a herd of goats and paused to tell us the story of how the lake, who's shore we stood on, was formed.

As the story goes.....there once were two young people who fell deeply in love but unfortunately they were from enemy tribes and their families wouldn't allow them to marry. Out of grief, they wept bitterly. They continued their crying day and night until they created two lakes made of their tears, lake Isli (his) and Tislit (hers). Their despair was so great, they committed suicide by drowning in those two lakes.

The families decided to establish a day on the anniversary of the lovers' death when members of local tribes could marry each other. Thus the Imilchil Marriage Festival was born. It is a time for some 30,000 people from the mountains to assemble under tents for three days with their flocks, their horses and camels. It is an occasion for the young girls to wear their finery, their sumptuous silver jewelry, and to dance for hours under the sun and under the stars. 

P.S. Hassan would like an Australian wife...

There must have been a lot of Tears. Lake Isli.

The dramatic backdrop of the Atlas Mountains.

A Moroccan and an Australian.

That's my wife not yours Hassan!

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Thursday, 15 November 2012

Most Moroccan's seem to hold the desert close to their hearts. Maybe it's because life out here is life in its most profound form. You need to be strong, not only physically to endure the harsh environment, but also mentally you need to be comfortable with yourself as there are very few superficial distractions.

I'm sure that these are only but a few of many reasons why an Aussie (originally a Pomme...) named Karen Hadfield had decided to set up her own desert camp. We had heard a story that Karen had spontaneously decided to set it up after just her first (and short) trip to Morocco and it wasn't until we arrived that we realised that we were also actually amongst her first group of guests. A single foreign woman running a business on her own in one of the most rugged environments in Morocco, actually the world. This seemed to be taking spontaneity to a new level. This couldn't possibly work could it?... Or could it?

Cafe Tissardmine, is set in a small oasis out near one of Morocco's most famous landmarks, the Erg Chebbi Dune. Karen's camp is set up as an artist's retreat and guesthouse giving you the choice of accommodation of either the traditional mud brick home or  Berber style tents both of which contain comfortable beds carefully made up in clean, crisp white linen. The solar power runs a small fridge in the camp's kitchen and pumps the water from a nearby well. You will only find one tap in the showers but the hot tap is not something you need out here! There's no internet and your phone probably won't work, but who cares, this really is a place that you come to relax and be still for a little while.

Conversation with Karen is easy and she is happy to share her story and the story of Cafe Tissardmine. As it turns out, while we may be her first official guests, Karen bought the camp in a state of ruin over a year ago and has been out here rebuilding since and there's nothing like building in a remote desert area to give you a real understanding of how a country works. I now have no doubt that Karen is well aware of what she's in for out here.

But she's not doing it all on her own as I originally thought, Karen has a business partner named Youssef. Youssef is a Berber who grew up locally in a nomadic family. When we head out to take camels to the top of the Erg Chebbi dune or visit the animal markets in the nearby town of Rissani, it is Youssef who guides the way across the unmarked hot and dusty plains. Youssef has also allowed Karen to form an amazing connection with the tiny village surrounding her camp. They know her well and enjoy her presence, appreciating her newly developed understanding and passion for the environment they share.

The more I spoke Karen and spent time with her, the more I began to realise how much admiration I had for this woman, buying the camp may have been a spontaneous decision but it was done only because she had the courage to realise she'd met her soulmate- Morocco.

Karen and Youssef.
Comfort in the desert.
Sophia slouching.
Rob and the boys.

Sophia and her new mate.

Karen and Sophia are both at home in the deserts of Morocco.

Helping the Princess up the dune.
The desert view.
What we all came for!
Road rules? I guess you need a road before you can have rules.

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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Slaughter

I could see it in Karen's eyes, she was just as uncomfortable about the thought of a lamb being slaughtered.

It was the first anniversary of Cafe Tissardmine, Karen's desert camp and where we were staying. After a long hard year of work and building Sophia and I were part of Karen's first group of guests, Cafe Tissardmine was officially open for business. Celebrating a moment like this in Morocco is actually done in a very similar way to back home in Australia except, before you rush out and light the barbeque, you're going to have to confront the reality of where your meal actually originated from, and good luck finding a cold beer to ease your nerves beforehand!

Earlier in the day the boys had said that they would be slaughtering a lamb that evening but as the moment quickly approached there was doubt as to whether it would all go ahead. The local village, made up of about 8 sturdy mud brick homes scattered around the camp, certainly falls within the definition of poor. The locals live an extremely humble life, simply sleeping on matts directly on the hard earth floors of their homes. There is no electricity and all water needs to be carried by hand back from a near by water pump. Many of these local families once lived a nomadic life and this lamb will be a well received treat for each of them but there is no way the boys are going to sharpen the knife unless they are sure enough mouths have been invited so that not a single piece of the animal will go to waste, as the guest list is still fluctuating I hold out hope that I won't be enlisted for duty down at the sheep pen.

As the sun begins to set I can see the look of relief on Sophia's face. As a small child she made the mistake of considering one of her Father's young lambs as her pet but when the annual celebration of Eid al-Kabir, a festival that celebrates the prophet Abraham, Sophia quickly learned her first big life lesson.

"Rob, Rob, everyone is coming, they're going to do it!" I hear Karen nervously calling out to me, I think Sophia is about to relive that lesson!

In the modern society that many of us live in these days, it's easy to forget or ignore where much of our food and products originated from. The leather on our shoes, the stuffing in our pillows, the meat on our plates all required an animal to sacrifice its life. Out here in the deserts of Morocco the meat they need for their survival doesn't arrive on a refrigerator shelf already neatly wrapped in clear plastic, they have to get their hands dirty and confront the cycle of life themselves.
Are you ready?
The butcher has travelled in from a nearby town and is already mid-prayer as I arrive down the back of the desert compound with my camera, it's a peaceful moment and the lamb is calm and unknowing of the fate it's about to meet. I'm nervous. I only have a moment to gather my thoughts and organise my gear before the sharp blade is quickly and neatly whisked across the lamb's throat. Just like that, it's over almost before it even starts and the boys have the lamb hung and skinned. Every part of the lamb is carefully dissected and removed and washed, nothing is wasted. A young boy is running plates of meat and organs back up to the camp where the women are already deep into the preparation of the feast.

Quickly and skillfully.
As could be expect, multiple plates of couscous were being prepared with tender pieces of meat while fresh bread was being baked in the outdoor clay oven. The night had descended on us quickly and the kitchen was the only room with light, running off a battery charged by the sun's energy that day. I lay out under the stars in absolute darkness surrounded by the indecipherable chatter of the local men. The food started coming out hard and fast on big share plates, silence descended over the camp as bread was broken and used as a utensil retrieve food from the dishes. It was impossible to make out exactly what I was eating and my only hope for understanding a word of what was being described to me was Sophia who was eating with the other women on the other side of the camp. It really didn't matter, it was delicious and it was fresh.

Sophia was so excited as we went to bed that night. "You got to try some real Moroccan delicacies tonight" she said. "You know the first plate that came out, well that was actually pieces of lambs heart. Then we had boulfef, they were the kebabs".

"I ate about 6 of those, they were unreal!" I replied.

"Yeah, that is my favourite recipe from growing up. They are made of liver wrapped in the stomach fat".

I could see the remainder of the night taking one of two paths. A deep sleep nursed by a full belly of content, or many long restless hours fuelled by the knowledge of what I'd just eaten...

Organic food.

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One easily recognisable dish.

Bread baked Fresh.

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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Beasts of burden

As we continue our journey out towards the far eastern border of Morocco and the much romanticised golden rolling seas of the Merzouga dunes, our lips begin to dry. The roads are beginning to get dustier and rougher and by the time we reach Rissani, one of the last towns before the endless sands of the Sahara, we can only pronounce half the letters in the alphabet (slight exaggeration).

I don't want to paint a cliched picture of this country, you really can find modern cities, beautiful architecture, thriving businesses and all the modern accessories you'll ever need but man when you drive into a place like Rissani you know you're in Morocco. It's arid, rugged, grubby and raw. The streets are disorganised and noisy, motorbikes and bicycles duck in and out of the people, the animals and the old vans and trucks that have made the journey into town from the smaller villages scattered near by and deeper into the desert. Sophia and I can't stop smiling, this place is real!

Apart from being your last stop to buy a chapstick, Rissani is also famous for its animal markets. In usual Sophia fashion, within 5 minutes of getting out of the car she has made a friend. In we go to the fresh produce markets first. If you've ever been amazed by the colours of piled spices in a Moroccan city souk, they're even more impressive set amongst the monochromatic backgrounds of the dusty desert markets. Trying to not be even bigger tourists than we already look like we made a conscious effort to not walk around with cameras glued to our eyes, instead waiting for the right moments which usually followed some sort of spontaneous and unpredictable exchange.

I could hear Sophia and our new mate deep in a conversation I couldn't understand until Sophia turned to me and said that we were off to see the animals. As we wandered through and she patted, kissed and talked to every animal in the market, even I could see that Sophia had obviously missed a bit of  the last conversation, to her it was heaven, she was in a giant pet shop. 

In Morocco animals are beasts of burden, they are necessary for transport, for farming, for eating and most importantly for survival but it's still hard to look tonight's tagine straight in the eye instead of through the tight thin plastic wrapping of a supermarket. So that's what it's like round here and the meat is fresh, as fresh as you can get.


Soph tries a new spice mix.

Look at those colours!

The neutral palette.

Our new mate and local legend.

Couscous or tagine?

The blow-ins.

Tweaking it.

Patting it.

Parking it.

Chopping it.

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Sunday, 9 September 2012


There are no shortcuts to the deserts that run down eastern Morocco along the Algerian border. I believe there is a small airport in a remote town called Errachidia but you certainly aren't going to find a low-cost airline that flies there which basically leaves you with two options, a full days drive from Fez or an even longer drive from Marrakech.

We felt that a driver/guide was the right way to go on our desert trip so that we could make best possible use of our time and see the most during our visit but it wasn't too far into our journey that we realised that, as that map had shown, there really was only one road all the way out there, pretty hard to get lost!

While our driver cranked out a selection of music from different regions of Morocco (and continually turned the air conditioning off each time he though we weren't looking) we passed through beautiful ever changing landscapes and towns. Ifrane was a town that caught our eye a few hours out of Fez. Also known as Little Switzerland, Ifrane is a summer resort/winter ski town filled with red-roofed, Swiss-style chalets laid out amongst gardens and tree lined streets, not a common sight in this country.

 A few more hours down the (same) road and it was the scatter of dark nomadic tents that captured our attention. Sophia was determined to go in for a closer inspection but I must admit that as we strolled out across the grassy plain I was a bit nervous, apart from the fact that neither one of us could speak Berber, how were we going to explain what we were doing knocking on their tent flaps?

Halfway out with 200 metres to go we were spotted, my pace slowed. I could now see the other family members beginning to gather out the front of the tent, I could feel my speed slowing again. A line of waving hands quickly went up, a spring was instantly injected back into my step. 

What an amazing family. Being there wasn't at all awkward or uncomfortable. We spent an hour with them simply hanging out and trading smiles before they walked us back to the road and we were again on our way desert bound.

The Nomadic plains.

Sophia with her new friends.

Smiles all round.
And Soph met a monkey...

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