Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant

Doesn’t that sound good!!???  I’m so very excited and happy to announce that this dream is finally coming into reality.  I’m in excitement overdrive right now about the whole thing so bear with me.  

Last time I wrote about how we had decided to establish this project as a non-profit.  We had a general assembly, elected a board of 7 members from among the women.  Naturally, it made sense for me to be the president or director of the non-profit, Lalla Khadija is the treasurer, and a lovely woman named Meriem is the secretary.   After we did all this, we had to iron out our statutes.  We stated as our basic goals:

To establish a training center in Moroccan cooking and pastries for at-risk women to rescue them from poverty.

To establish a simple restaurant to sell the products of the training center.

Then we put together a dossier that contains the statutes, the list of board members, the minutes from the general assembly, and photocopies of each of the members’ ID cards.  All of this of course in seven copies, each page notarized, as is the custom here in Morocco.  A person’s signature here is worthless unless it is notarized.

But we still needed one crucial document to establish this non-profit, and that was a rental contract.  That’s right, to register any kind of business or non-profit in Morocco one first needs to have a rental contract.  If a person is a homeowner then they can use their home address temporarily.  But none of us are, so the final step of renting a place was crucial for us.

I’ve been looking for spaces to rent since about May/June.  I’ve hired samsars (kinda fly-by-night agent that helps locate rentals), knocked on doors, found places that I got excited about but that weren’t meant to be, and spent probably 100s of hours day-dreaming and obsessing about “our space” (and the project in general, I even had very realistic dreams that we rented such-and-such a space).  I made a lot prayers, especially the prayer of asking for God’s direction in making a decision salat al istikhara.  It goes something like this:

Allah, if you know that this matter: renting this house for the women’s center, is best for me in my spiritual and worldly affairs, in this life and the next, in the immediate and the long-term, then will it for me, make it easy, and then put blessing in it for me.  And if You know that this matter: renting this house for the women’s center, is bad for me in my spiritual and worldly affairs, in this life and the next, in the immediate and the long-term, then drive it away from me and drive me away from it, and will goodness for me wherever that may lie.

A beautifully simple and liberating prayer.

Everyone I met and told about this project also would make prayers of ease and blessing.  Allahumma yassir, Allahumma barik.  We work and strive in this world of cause and effect, but ultimately where things are truly determined is in a realm far beyond us.  I never know who’s prayer is being answered or if it is a confluence of collective prayer…

Finally, the right space for our project materialized.  It’s the downstairs of a villa in the Gueliz area.  It has a wealth of light and all out good vibes.  The street is lined with trees, the house is south facing so receives good light all day, there is a nice garden for outside dining and an herb garden, and plenty of space inside to create a great training kitchen, dining area, and display area for the pastries (I’ll try to post some pics soon).  Thanks to private donations, we were able to pay the first year of rent in advance!

We are overjoyed with the space.  The villa is old and needs some work, but the general feeling there is that it’s a safe and beautiful place for these women to learn and grow.  Honestly it feels like a haven.  The next phase is to make the necessary alterations and aesthetic improvements.  An architect friend is kindly donating his time to draw up a plan of the space and make suggestions on how to proceed.  Then next week we will bring in a builder to start tearing down some walls, putting a few doorways and windows in, etc.  By the end of December, inshallah, we’ll be ready for equipment and furniture.  Then the actual work and training can begin, yeah!

At this point, like I said, we’ve received some very generous support for the rent and repairs.  We are now looking to raise the funds needed for the equipment and furniture.  I’m appealing to you, dear readers and blogging community, for this support.  I’d like to invite you to be part of this project with any donation that is possible to you.

I’m planning on asking some of the major equipment companies in the Food Service industry if they’ll sponsor our training center via some kind of donation of equipment and/or discount.  I’m talking about Promark, Arcade Equipment and Foyelec.  We don’t need a lot, but there are minimal pieces of professional equipment that we need like a big refrigerator, good range top and oven (I could go into great detail about what we need, I’ll save that though for a future post).  Maybe one of my readers is somehow connected to one of these companies.

Here is the bank info for the Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant:

Bank name: Attijariwafa Bank
Account number (R.I.B) 007450000806500030059496
SWIFT code: BCM.AM.AMC

Here’s our name and address:

Association Amal pour la Cuisine et les Gateaux Marocains
Villa Simone
Angle Rue Allah ben Ahmed et Ibn Sina
Quartier l’Hopital
Gueliz, Marrakesh, 40 000 MAROC
 
Phone number: +212 613 10 84 60
email: amalnonprofit (at) gmail (dot) com 
(website coming soon!)
Facebook: AmalNonProfit 

Please support these needy and at-risk women with whatever donation is within your means.  Peace and blessings to you all.

Remember him?

 

He came into life under difficult circumstances.  He is Saeeda’s son (name changed for privacy).  Such a curious, funny, quick child.  Since his birth, his mother, who is unmarried, drew the veil of secrecy around herself and her child in order to protect them both from scrutiny.  With time however, she introduced him to her family as “the son of a woman who can’t take care of him”.  The family just adores him.  With time, many of them came to understand that he is in fact her son,   By that time, they all were in love with him already, they were able to come to terms with it in a palatable way.  The story is a still there “to save face” in front of others… neighbors, strangers.

It’s been almost two years since his birth, since that day when she was penniless and homeless and still weak from childbirth, and we were able to open our home to her for a few weeks.  Things have gotten so much better.  I have had the great pleasure of working closely with Saeeda over the last year in the context of our baking endeavor.  Often times she had her son on her back, and when he was older, scampering about with the pots and pans.  I can honestly say she is one of the best mother’s I’ve seen.  She talks softly and reassuringly to her son, a soothing narrative of what they are doing together.  She takes great care in preparing his special food, soups and baby bottles.  She keeps him clean and well-dressed although she has very little money.  She laughs at the 100 funny things he does, her own small rewards.  Her eyes just shine when she looks at him.  She doesn’t get impatient, she always gives him time.  Being around them both is very soothing and joyful.  Everything in her life has always come to her at great difficulty, even the circumstances around the birth of her son.  But even the burden of being a single mother in Morocco is nothing compared to the love she has for him and the joy he has brought her.   I can see that he is clearly her dearest treasure.

 

Death by Chocolate, the Cheesecake Version

 

 

 

 

When you live in Morocco, it’s handy to have a few super powers.  Driving stick shift…is not a super power. It’s a plain old power.  Driving stick shift, during rush hour, behind a mule cart and right up next to a flashy 4×4, a guy trying to sell you box of tissue while the light is red, while tuning out the arguments of 3 or 4 kids (is it pronounced pokemon or pokeman?  No!  It’s not a man, it’s a monster)… is a super power, one that few give credit to.

Another, much less vital super power I’ve discovered I possess is the ability to bake any American dessert with Moroccan ingredients.  I have cracked the code on many classics, such as Chocolate Chip cookies, for which I have sourced actual chocolate chips in both dark, milk and white chocolate (you can only find them in the deep recesses of the medina, at a professional baker supply store).  I’ve also discovered a decent substitute to brown sugar, which is cane sugar (Marjane) mixed with a few spoons of sugar honey (Miel de glucose).  Works like a charm to give that must-have butterscotch flavored chewiness to the cookies.  No need to thank me, frustrated fellow bakers, it’s just what I do.  I find this super power useful when my American friends complain about the food here.  I just say, man up and make it yourself!  If you’re gonna make it around these parts, you better crack the code too.  That’s my PSA for y’all.

One strange thing about my super power is that I can never outpower my sister.   Just when I’ve reached a new level, she’ll show up with like, oh, Cinnamon Rolls from scratch (I’m not gonna write from scratch anymore during this post, because there’s no other way to bake around here).  Funny story about that, once my sister was over and we made brownies.  That day my husband had a guest from the states and we served the brownies for dessert.  The guest said “so you guys brought the box of brownie mix over from the states?”.  And we were like “are you kidding me?”.   There’s like 5 ingredients in brownies, all available from the local store and they take about 10 minutes to mix.  Box mix is for sissies 🙂

That said, there are some things that I like to have from the states.  One is a set of measuring cups, since most American recipes are measured in cups, not grams (there are ways to convert between the two, some websites, don’t get me started).  Anyway, I have my measuring cups.  Another is some good quality vanilla extract.  I like the Trader Joe’s brand that is alchohol-free.   That’s about it, seriously.  2 things.  As far as cooking in general, I like spice mixes like Mrs Dash.  I stock up on those if I get to the states, or my family and friends bring them over.

Everything else I can either make, find or do without.

So, this past Eid, I decided to put a new twist on my Moroccan-made cheesecake.  (My sister did, and since I can’t get ahead of her, I have to at least keep up).  Chocolate Cheesecake!

1.  I think the ingredients speak for themselves here, but just in case not, let me introduce them.  Sable are our Graham Crackers, Carre creme (the squares) is our cream cheese, Perly is our sour cream/yogurt, Nestle is sweetened condensed milk.  That Choco Pasty stuff is dark chocolate, the real kind, don’t go for “Sucre Chocolate” which only has 5% cocoa.  Eggs and butter are, naturally, universal.

2. Put the Sable biscuits in the food processor.  My food processor is about 13 years old.  Every time a new piece breaks of and I think about springing for a new one, I’m like, nah, just superglue it:

3.  Process till they look like sand.  Add about 50-100 grams of melted butter (1/4 to 1/2 cup):

 

 

4. Pat the crust into the pan like so.  It’s classier to just cover the bottom and not try to go up the sides:

5.  Food process the rest: the Kiri, Perly, Nestle, eggs.

 

6.  This is how chocolate looks when you’ve done absolutely nothing to it:

 

7.  Now melt it.  I ended up using 200g, almost the whole pack but not quite.  I wanted it chocolaty enough to overpower the cream cheese, but not so chocolaty that it’s bitter.  This is where you gotta love microwaves.  Sure we don’t know what the long-term effects are… but you make it up in clean dishes!

 

8.  Let the chocolate cool for a minute and blend it into the cream cheese mixture.  I love that this whole recipe take place in the food processor and you hardly have to do any work.  When you pour it over your crust it should look like this and very liquidy:

 

9.  It takes a good hour to cook on low heat.  Once it’s set, don’t let it overcook or it will dry out.  I went ahead and made a lemon cheesecake too.  I was interested to see that they behaved very differently in the oven, the lemon one really puffed up and the chocolate one stayed low.  I realized that the lemon juice I used to flavor the lemon cheesecake actually curdled the milk ingredients and gave a whole other texture, it was grainier.  The chocolate one tasted smooth as mousse.  Of course when I mentioned this to my sister, she’d already encountered the same phenomenon and solved it by using only lemon zest (not juine) to flavor it, and it didn’t curdle.  She’s so Obiwan to my Luke.  Yeah, yeah, we watched Star Wars and now every metaphor or simile is Yoda this, Darth Vader that.  

 

 

10.  Ta da!

11.  My attempts at food styling.  Couldn’t think of anything to top this with except for a blue morning glory.  The teapot is a bit of a show-stealer, all shiny and symbolic of Morocco.  Enjoy and remember, I’m not legally responsible for the 5 pounds you gained while reading this post.