No that's not a style of Volkswagon. The Tuareg are a nomadic tribe in the Sahara. They run the salt trade routes in Mali Africa.
This little bit of trivia comes from a book that I read for my new book club. I got together with a group of lovely ladies last evening to discuss Men of Salt by Michael Benanav. The author books himself a trip crossing the Sahara on a camel from Timbuktu to Taoudenni. He wants to see for himself if this ancient form of business, mining salt and transporting it by camel across the Sahara, can withstand the threat of commercial trucks.
The book was okay. The physicality of the trip, the endurance, the ability to really push yourself is an interesting story but I had a hard time buying into it as I never really liked the author. I found him to be self indulgent and the story wasn't that intriguing.  I think he missed the mark, he should have written the book about his guide Walid and the other characters they met along the way. A book about the Tuareg guides would have been a more compelling read.
Anyway, I'm sure you'd rather hear about what was cooking!

Frites From Dorie Greenspans cookbook Around my French Table
Thank you Julie, they were addictive!

Tunisian Wine, thank you Ann!

Susan's Black Beans and Rice Delicious!

Lauren's roasted Endive with Proscuitto and Balsamic Vinegar and Roasted Tomatoes. 
Planning to make this very soon!

We certainly ate better than the author and his guide did while on their trip.  Heck, we would have eaten better if we ate insects and poisonous snakes. Rancid Camel meat, rice and a large quantity of sand was standard fare in the caravan. I'm quite happy to not be a Tuareg.

* The recipes linked above are not the exact recipe(except for the cookies) for the food that was shared, they are a great jumping off point though.  Enjoy!

And then, you ruined them.....

Tomorrow we are having a "Back to School BBQ" here at the American Cooperative School of Tunis.  I have a love/hate relationship with school events.  As the school nurse I usually get stuck chatting with a random stranger about a rash their child has developed. Now that I am without my friend B to run interference for me I may be left to my own devices.

I may need to fake sunstroke.

I have a friend who actually said she would rather let people buy tickets to poke needles in her eyes and then, donate the money to the school instead of attend a certain event. I don't think I would go that far, I do however think they should serve adult beverages at said events.

Any way....the memo that went out asked that everyone bring a dessert to share.  Ordinarily you wouldn't have to ask me twice, I'm always happy to bake something. Right now that is a bit of a challenge.  As I have mentioned our shipment hasn't arrived (It is on its way though. Yay!) and I only have one measuring cup, and that is a liquid measuring cup.  I also have only one baking dish, an oval glass pan that is 9X13 inch(ish).  I do have some nice baking goodies that I smuggled along in our luggage here though. Which is where the "You ruined it" part comes in to play.

I wasn't keen on making cookies so I thought a bar cookie or brownie would be easier to make.  I made  Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookie dough and at the last minute added some chopped dried cherries instead of nuts to the batter.  My youngest daughter will protest that move as the worst thing a mom could ever do to a cookie.

There are worse things.

Like spinach. Or raisins. Raisins are from Satan.

Oh, I also wanted to show you my favorite Tunisian baking item.

Bicarbonate de Soude (Baking Soda)

Is it not totally cute?!  All retro and happy and bubbly.  I love seeing it in my pantry, inside are little sachets or packets filled with 2 teaspoons of baking soda per packet.

I don't think I ruined them at all.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal and Cherry Bars
for Morgan, but not really

1 cup butter melted and cooled
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups oatmeal
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped dried Montmorency Cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9X13 inch baking pan. Line with parchment if desired.

Combine the melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and beat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is well combined.  Add the eggs and vanilla and stir well.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to the sugar mixture and stir well to combine.  Add the oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried cherries.  Stir well.
Spread the batter into the baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes, do not over brown.  Let cool then refrigerate before cutting.

Finding our rhythm

We are slowly finding our way, finding a pace and rhythm that suits our family. We have our routines (that are held very loosely at the present). School, the gym, pick the girls up from Volleyball, home, dinner, homework and tidy up, lunches for the next day, collapse, repeat.  Saturdays Andy and I head to the market early for produce, to the butcher for meat, to the Patisserie for bread and croissant (we have to stop buying the croissants), home, prep food, try to get ahead of the week and hopefully find time to relax, maybe even indulge in hanging out with some friends.  Sunday, hopefully church, hopefully friends, relax and finish what couldn't be done on Saturday.

This weekend however was different! The girls had sleepovers. That means friends other than your parents friends, kids! That means disruptions to carefully crafted schedules, but who cares, HALLELUJAH! Friends! And sleepovers! And carpools and, this is an exciting addition to any new kids schedule!

Saturday evening after dropping one girl off for an evening with friends and picking the other up Andy and I had a few minutes to share a meal, just the two of us.  It was made from things we had purchased that morning at the market. It was mostly eaten in that quiet, calm, understanding that while we are exhausted, life is still pretty darn good. We have two fantastic daughters, we travel, we have families that love us, we are blessed with good friends. 

We are blessed.

And until we find that just right rhythm we'll keep doing what we're doing and rejoice in friends!  Yay!

Saturday Night Salade Nicoise
serves 2

1 head lettuce, your favorite variety
4 ounces Haricot Vert
6 new red potatoes each approximately 2 inches in diameter
2 hard-boiled eggs
2 cans olive oil packed tuna drained
¼ cup Nicoise olives
2 green onions sliced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup olive oil
Salt, pepper, honey to taste

For the dressing: Whisk until well combined, the mustard and red wine vinegar.  Slowly add the olive oil while constantly whisking until the ingredients thicken and emulsify. Season with salt and pepper. If the dressing is too acidic add a bit of honey to correct it.
For the salad: Wash, dry and tear the lettuce leaves into bite sized pieces.  Place in the refrigerator to chill.
Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil. Cook the Haricot Vert for 3-5 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain them well, toss with 1 tablespoon of salad dressing, and set aside.
Return the water to a boil and add the potatoes and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Drain thoroughly, slice in half and while still warm toss the potatoes with 1 heaping tablespoon of dressing.
Peel and slice the hard cooked eggs into fourths.
To assemble: Toss the lettuce with enough dressing to coat.  Divide the lettuce between 2 plates. Divide the Haricot Vert and place equal amounts on each salad, same with the potato, egg, olives, (confession time: I ate all the olives while making the salad....) and cover all with a sprinkling of sliced green onion.  Spoon one can of tuna in the middle of the salad and drizzle with any remaining dressing.

The remains of the day

Long day. This week we have been conducting vision and hearing exams on all the new students at school.  Today it was the Kindergarten students turn.  It was a task not unlike herding cats, or grocery shopping with toddlers, or, I don't know what. At least they are cute. Early on we scrapped the hearing portion of the exam as we could not collect any reliable results.

Me: You are going to hear some small sounds and I need to you raise your hand when you hear one.
Student: Okay
Me: (After conducting the test twice and the child not raising their hand once) Did you hear anything?
Student: Yes.
Me: Honey, you need to raise you hand when you hear the sound okay?
Student: No. I'm tired.

Me too.

Andy and I got home late today. The chicken breasts, or I should say, escalope poulet, were not defrosted and it was already looking like dinner at 8. I had made a good sauce the other day on the fly and thought I could recreate it and serve it with pasta.

It's a loose recipe.

Zucchini and Roasted Tomato Cream Sauce
Zucchini diced
Oven roasted tomatoes * see note
a big spoonful of prepared pesto
creme fraiche (they are crazy about it here, use sour cream or heavy cream if you have that on hand)
white wine
olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a heavy saute pan over medium high heat.  Toss in some zucchini (I used about 5 small ones) let them get good and brown then dice up the tomatoes (about 8) and throw them in.  Saute for about 3 minutes.  Add the pesto and stir it around until it gets good and fragrant.  Add the creme fraiche (maybe 1/2 cup) and wine (1cup).  Bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper.
Serve over pasta or pan fried chicken breasts.

Today because I was serving it over pasta I added more wine and an ingredient called L'Ben, lait fermente.  I would say it was liquid creme fraiche. If you know what it really is I don't want to know. It worked, the sauce tasted good, and the word "fermente" is making me squeamish.

To roast tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice Roma tomatoes in half and drizzle lightly with a little olive oil.  Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat.  Sprinkle evenly with sea salt.  You can also choose to season them with home herbs at this time too.  Roast them in the oven until they collapse and char a bit on the edges.  Store them in an airtight container. They don't last long but they are tasty.  I'm going to try to freeze some and see how they work later in the winter.

Maybe next time.....

After finishing our first week of school I had semi-high hopes for the weekend.  I'm not really sure what I had hoped for but none the less, I woke up Saturday morning with semi-high hopes.  Looking back, we did a lot. Andy and I tackled the market and prepped food for the week (he is my hero for pulling the heads off of 2 kilos of prawns), met with the gardener, worked on the never ending pile of laundry (still no dryer), cleaned the house and managed to spend a little time with friends.

Sunday morning we planned to venture out to downtown Tunis and go to church. We were going with another teacher we met here at school. We picked her up and with a fairly good, bordering on vague, idea of where we were headed, we set off.  We were aiming for here:

But that's not where we ended up. We missed an exit, and had to drive about 20 minutes until we could turn around. We made our way back to downtown Tunis and found our way to the general location of the church. As luck would have it,  the right hand turn we thought we could take was a one way. The traffic was crazy, the pedestrian traffic even more so.  We eventually arrived here:

That would be the 7th circle of hell, otherwise known as the Medina. I'll spare you the story but suffice it to say it involved wanting to throw up, a crazy man jumping out and banging on our car, and an overwhelming need to lock the doors and compulsively check that they were still locked. It took a long time to wind our way out of the back alleys to where we could make heads or tails of where we were.
Since by now we were 45 minutes late to church we decided that trip would just be a recon mission. If we could figure out how to find the church we could attempt a visit another day.

I arrived home feeling fragile and cranky and overwhelmed. I was very grateful for a friends invitation to meet for lunch in a little town about a 10 minute drive from Carthage. Sidi Bou Said is adorable. All white washed with blue shutters, cobbled lanes, and sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Lunch, ocean breezes, good conversation and gelato were very restorative to my soul.  Never underestimate the power of good gelato.

After a brief walk around the town we drove home, the girls had homework and we needed to put some finishing touches on things for the week. I had planned to make some bread for lunches, I had found a recipe for a toasted oat bread but just didn't have it in me. Maybe next time.

I made this instead.

Olive Oil Zucchini Bread
adapted from here and there
Makes 2 loaves

3 eggs

1 cup olive 
1 3/4 cups sugar

2 cups grated zucchini

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in oil and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla.
Combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Stir this into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into prepared pans.
Bake loaves for 60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Muffins will bake much quicker, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.


This past month has been filled with lots of firsts.  First time setting foot in Africa, first time dipping our toes in the Mediterranean Sea, first time having to negotiate life using a language you are so very, VERY, not fluent in, and most recently, and some in the crowd would say most importantly, first day of school!

The girls started their new school, The American Cooperative School of Tunis, on Monday. There was much trepidation, some tears (totally on my part), and a lot of bravery that went into those first few hours of Monday morning.

Besides the fact that they were the "new kids", and "teachers kids", and that they were worried about sitting alone at lunch, and getting lost, the number one (maybe not #1, but close up there) fear was the fact that they will not be wearing uniforms to school this year.  Ack! Having to choose clothes to wear to school EVERYDAY?! 

There could be worse things to worry about right?

I do have to say that the day was a great success for everyone in the house. No one got lost, everyone had someone to eat lunch with, and we all looked cute. The girls rated their day an 8 out of 10 which in my books is a first day of school victory in the making.

Another new first for us is eating new foods.  Harissa, Mechouia, and Brik for example. Some foods we are eating we are familiar with but we don't eat them with a lot of regularity.  Zucchini is one of those foods.  It makes and appearance here and there in vegetable lasagnas, on a crudites platter, mostly in zucchini bread. But I had a whole kilo of it from the Saturday market and needed to do something with it.  Thank goodness for my friend Google! We had really great zucchini fritters to go along with our dinner that evening.  

They were rated even higher than the first day of school.

Zucchini Fritters
6 small zucchini, grated (mine were about 5 inches long each)
1 cup of crumbled feta cheese
1 small red onion finely chopped
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint
3 eggs beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
olive oil

Place the grated zucchini in a colander, generously salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Squeeze the excess fluid out of the zucchini. I find it easiest to place the zucchini in a clean and dry kitchen towel, gather up the edges and squeeze all the fluid out.  When the zucchini is fairly dry place it in a mixing bowl.  In a small bowl mix together the feta, onion, mint, eggs, and flour.  Pour over the zucchini and stir well to combine. 
Heat some olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat.  Using a 1/2 cup measuring cup (or if you are still waiting for your shipment to arrive from Singapore just scoop into the pan what passes as fritter size to you), scoop the batter into the pan and lightly pat into a round shape.  Let the fritter cook until browned and the batter stays together when moved, about 5 minutes. Carefully flip and cook for another 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve hot.

À Peu Près

A little bit close, sort of, approximately. That was the theme of the day.  Might be the theme of things to come for a while.

I met up with my friend Lauren at the La Marsa market again to buy some groceries for the week. (We are running out of multi-vitamins so I really need to nail this shopping thing.  Just kidding Mom, your Grandkids will be just fine.) We gamely set about looking over the produce, there were eggplants, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, squash the size of toddlers, a watermelon that I swear weighed 40 pounds, mountains of figs.....I could go on. It was a dizzying array of fruit and vegetables and not really a clear process as to how to proceed. Oh and did I mention that it was 106 degrees Fahrenheit? (That would be 41.1 Celsius for the Europeans in the crowd). It took me a while to get in the groove as I was pretty shy about my limited French, I still haven't mastered the money, and I was hell bent on finding basil. A very kind vender approached, asked if I was new (I guess it really showed), took my basket, set it down, shoved a bunch of red plastic bags in my hands and gestured for me to shop. So there you have it, how to shop in La Marsa market. Just go for it.

Somewhere along the way Lauren suggested that we should get our families together for dinner that evening and we set about with a loose plan for that evenings meal.  When cooking and eating seasonally it is hard to head to the market with a list, the things you need for a specific recipe may not be available. It's fine really, and you learn to hold things loosely. We talked about what we had in our baskets, what we had at home, what we had the energy to make and Voila, dinner was planned and the new theme of À Peu Près was born.

We had Lasagna (sort of) a mix of fresh pasta and as Lauren would describe it, "weird greens, unidentifiable cheese that seemed to resemble ricotta, pesto, and oven roasted tomatoes". I made a Caesar salad (sort of) and admonished everyone to eat every last bite as it took over an hour to make. Since I am without a salad spinner until our shipment arrives this was the most tedious salad I've ever made. For dessert we had what I affectionately called "eyeball tart" or since we are trying to add French words to our vocab "tarte oeil".

Most of you would call it a Peach Gallette (maybe very generously, a Rustic Peach Gallette) I call it a lucky break.  The pastry chefs reading this may want to skip ahead as you will soon see, everything was eyeballed in the making of this dessert. Because our shipment from Singapore has not arrived, I do not have measuring utensils, nor a mixing bowl, or rolling pin. I don't even have a baking dish and the one sheet pan I brought along in a suit case will not fit in my oven. I approximated what would be the right amount of flour, and sugar, cut in a bit of butter, added exactly 2 egg yolks and literally a handful of water. And now dear friends this is where the comedy of errors began.

I rolled out the crust onto my marble counter top using a bottle of Tunisian Syrah, 2008.  I placed the peaches in the center, folded up the edges of the gallette, and then went Hmmm.  How to transfer it to the broiler pan that I was going to use to bake it on. Um, after a brief attempt I unfolded the pastry, scooped the peaches out, wadded up the dough and found a silicone baking mat that I had brought in my suitcase. Crisis averted! I re-rolled the now overworked dough onto the mat, placed the peaches in the middle, folded up the sides, sprinkled it with sugar, and used the mat as a sling of sorts to transfer the gallette to the waiting pan and into the oven it went.

It was pretty freaking awesome if I have to say so myself.

Rustic Peach Gallette
For Lauren and Nico

For the peaches:
6 large peaches ripe, yet still firm, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup granulated sugar
juice of half a lemon
For the crust:
2 cups of flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of butter, cold, cut into small pieces
2 egg yolks
ice cold water as needed to bring dough together

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat

Place the sliced peaches in a mixing bowl (if you have one, improvise if you are in the middle of moving countries), toss them with the sugar and lemon juice. Allow them to sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour. After the peaches have macerated drain them saving the accumulated juices. Pour the juices into a small saucepan and reserve.

In a mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Cut the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs. Using a fork, gently work the egg yolks through the dough. If the dough seems dry add a tablespoon or 2 of ice cold water.  

Roll the dough out into a large circle, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Place the peaches in the center of the dough and then fold the edges of the dough up around the fruit.  If the dough splits just crimp it together. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar all around the crust.

Bring the saucepan of reserved peach juices to a boil over medium high heat and reduce them by half.  Pour over the peaches in the gallette and then bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is very browned.

It would be great with some ice cream or sweetened whipped creme fraiche.

La Marsa Market and Eggplant Parm. Sort of.

Well we have made it through a few weeks here in Tunisia.  No wait, I lied. We made it through 10 days in Tunisia before taking a holiday.

I should probably say that we didn't NEED to get out of Dodge. We had planned the holiday last year after we made the decision to move. Sort of a bribe for two teenage girls who weren't keen on moving.

We spent about 5 days in London, while Tunisia celebrated the end of Ramadan. London was wonderful, we fulfilled some shopping desires, saw the sights, and returned to North Africa ready to dive full on into the school year. I was most happy to see upon our return that the garbage strike had ended and the ever growing pile of refuse across the street from our house was cleared up. Mostly.

I have just one question for our dear striking garbage collectors and then I'll move on.  While on strike, did it cross your mind, that when you return to work you are going to have a heck of a lot more to do than if you had just kept up your job? Add that to the fact that had you kept at your job, you wouldn't have people yelling at you for not doing your job?

Moving on......

I have been having a terrible time getting into a routine, finding my way to shops, making coherent meals. I have been able to get a main dish down, or a side dish, rarely both in the same meal. I was starting to just give everyone an extra multi-vitamin as purchasing and preparing vegetables was just too much.  Why you ask?  Why couldn't you figure that out.  My only response is "Decision Fatigue"

Don't judge me.

So upon our return I asked a friend to take me to the markets that she frequents. Not only was it wonderful to spend a little time with her and her husband but I was able to actually get some great fruit and vegetables for a really good price.

Gorgeous Eh?!

Olives, preserved lemons, harissa paste

Oh yeah, they had a few more things than just fruit and veg. I was able to indulge in some pottery and baskets. I have a bit of a problem when it comes to handmade pottery and baskets. 
No Betty Ford does not have a treatment plan for this. 
Pretty sure my husband checked.

Here's a round up of my vegetable purchases.

For dinner I made a sauce of the peppers, onions, tomatoes and a few other things and topped some fried eggplant with the sauce and some cheese.  We called it Eggplant Parmesan. Sort of.

Eggplant Parmesan. Sort of.

1 medium size eggplant
All purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 medium onion diced
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 poblano chile roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced (canned is fine)
1 yellow bell pepper diced
4 plum tomatoes peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup grated Mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

For the eggplant:
Slice the eggplant thinly, salt both sides and place in a strainer for 30 minutes, up to one hour. (See cooks note). Rinse eggplant and place on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Place 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour in a shallow bowl and season liberally with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Dredge the eggplant slices in the seasoned flour and cook in batches until each slice is golden brown on both sides. Remove eggplant to a baking dish, arrange the slices in a single layer.
For the sauce:
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Saute the onion until brown and caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic, poblano, and tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for another 5 minutes covered. After 5 minutes, press on the tomatoes to release their juices and to break them down a bit. Add the wine and Worcestershire sauce and cook until reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss together the Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and set aside. Place a spoonful of the sauce over each slice of eggplant. Sprinkle the cheese over evenly and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese melts and slightly browns.

Cooks Note: Sprinkling salt over eggplant slices before cooking them draws out the vegetable's moisture. It's a process known as "degorging".
Larger, older eggplants have brown seeds that contain a bitter liquid. Salting eggplants removes some of this liquid, which in turn makes it easier to cook them. 
Larger eggplants also tend to become soft and "melty" when cooked, so salting them before cooking leads to firmer, denser texture.