Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Casablanca, Morocco - travel diary

First Impressions of Casablanca, Morocco

Day 1 in Morocco - arrived in Casablanca (January)

Had my passport and papers checked 3 times at Casablanca airport and my luggage x-rayed. No smiles - a bit like america in that sense. Lighting was kept to a minimum in the airport and many smoked even there were no smoking signs. 

Plane food
Plane food was decent enough marinated beef stew with chickpeas and cous cous.  

Chocolate creme dessert. Coffee but no milk available. 

I have been advised to wear a wedding ring to keep the men at bay. So I am wearing a cheap ring with glass for a diamond - I am not married and feel like a fraud.
Arrived at the hotel Ajiad, Casablanca. Room is simple but clean. My tripadvisor review

Casablanca Hotel Room

The streets of Casablanca
Looking out onto the streets of Casablanca it's filled with men standing around, looks like Hanley centre in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs. Only a few women about. We were advised to get a cab at night if we wanted to go out as the streets aren't particularly safe for foreigners at night.

Where's the sun?
It 16oC and raining today.  
Black combats, khaki t-shirt, black fleece and khaki head scarf. Covered up.

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Monday, 28 July 2014

Adidas Routemaster Buses in London

adidas world cup 'all or nothing' campaign

Adidas is the first brand to paint 32 entire Routemaster buses.

Why 32 Routemasters? 
One bus for each World Cup team, of course. Wasn't it obvious?! The paint job includes images and straplines from its 'all or nothing' campaign for the 2014 Fifa World Cup as part of the deal. You can see the buses on route 8 ad 38 and are due to leave our streets 24th September. To me, they resemble huge snails stuck to our London streets. 

2014 is also Transport for London's "year of the bus" celebrations, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Routemaster bus and the 100th anniversary of the first mass-produced motorbus.

I hadn't intended to shoot a picture of a bus, I really wanted to shoot One Eagle Place now in the background of the shot.

One Eagle Place

One Eagle Place, Piccadilly

One Eagle Place is in an interesting place of prime real estate between existing buildings in two Conservation Areas (Regent Street and St James’s). One Eagle Place replaces three former buildings, filling a block. The block includes a new building and façade in ceramic utilizing the sculptural and cast qualities of clay and polychromatic glazes (see photo above).

Renowned sculptor Richard Deacon was commissioned to design a cornice creating a memorable dialogue between architecture and art.

One Eagle Place, Jermyn Street, Waves

On the South side of the block on Jermyn Street there is a new building and façade of stone. Sculptor Stephen Cox has worked on a piece entitled 'waves'.

Learn more about Eric Parry's Eagle Place in the Architect's Journal

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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Henna Hand Painting in Morocco

Where does henna hand painting originate?

The use of henna for decoration in Morocco goes back to the time when the Berbers first migrated into the area; they were long settled there when the Phoenicians and the Romans invaded North Africa. No one is certain of the Berber's origins, but it is generally believed that they came from either Yemen or the area what is now Syria.

Berber henna symbols

Berber henna symbols reflect aspects of their lives connecting their art to nature. Planting, harvesting, reference of the sun, moon, earth and the stars are all included in the symbols of the Berber's early cultural traditions and are carried on even today. Such symbols are not only for decoration but also for protection from the evil eye and from the evil spirits believed to dwell in the surrounding trees and brooks. When I was having this traditional Berber design done I was told by the lady that this would bring me Baraka.

What is Baraka?

Baraka is used to deal with the darker forces at large throughout life helping to cure illnesses and protecting oneself against the evil jnoun (spirits - the source of the English word "genie") and the evil eye. Berber symbols are included in the design of everyday objects to protect the object as well as the person who uses or wears it. In my case she said this would bring me luck with a man after I answered that I had no husband. These motifs appear in all aspects of the Berber artisanal tradition, including pottery, leatherwork and textiles and all types of personal adornment. It makes sense then that Berber found many ways to adorn themselves with jewellery, tattoos and henna. It is mostly Berber women who are tattooed.

Tattoos are forbidden by Islam

Many Berber women in Morocco have found other outlets for placing their protective motifs by including them in textiles they weave and in their jewellery and henna designs. The designs that are drawn in henna on the hands and feet of a bride on the eve of her marriage are these same protective and nurturing symbols that have evolved throughout centuries of following this tradition.

Importance of where henna tattoos are placed

I also learned, when out in Morocco, that the tattoo is just as significant as the designs themselves. I was told that Berber women are often tattooed around body openings to keep the jnoun from entering the body through them. The feet are adorned with protective symbols to keep the jnoun (genie) from coming into the body through the earth.

Designs near breasts and pubic areas enhance sensuality. Designs on the back prevent infertility and treat it. Designs on ankles or hands protect the person from the evil eye as well as lending lightness and delicacy to the body.

What the symbols mean on my hands:

The symbol on the end of my left index finger is the Berber sign of freedom.

My other fingers are dressed with Snake and fish skeletons. The snake represents a holy person and also has many magical and medicinal properties. I should put that on my CV.

The triangular chessboard design on my left hand is associated with dizzy spells and celestial experiences, perhaps symbolic of religious trances. I am up for that!

The diamond symbol on my right middle finger is the Eye which is for protection against the evil eye; the cross in the middle deflects evil in four directions.

My favourite henna decoration I had when I was in Morocco was the black Berber design I had done in Essaouira. I paid c £16 for the design in the photo.

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Top 5 macaron fillings

The flavour of a macaron isn't in the meringue but in the topping. 

Top 5 macaron fillings:

Raspberry buttercream: mix approx. 1/3 raspberry jam into 2/3 buttercream

Lemon buttercream: mix 1/3 lemon curd into 2/3 buttercream

Chocolate Ganache Filling, White, Milk or Dark Chocolate

Chocolate buttercream: mix dark chocolate ganache into buttercream to taste

Pistachio buttercream: add pistachio paste into buttercream to taste.

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Moussaka Recipe

What is Moussaka?

You may have heard of Moussaka in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But what is Moussaka? It is perhaps the most widely recognized of all Greek dishes. Moussaka is, in essence, a baked dish made by layering aubergine (eggplant) with a lightly spiced meat filling using oregano, cinnamon & cumin. It is then topped with a creamy bechamel sauce that is baked to golden perfection.

Moussaka Recipe

This aubergine (eggplant) version is the traditional rendition, however you can also potatoes, courgette (zucchini), or whatever vegetables you prefer. It's hearty and filling so you won't need many side dishes. I would suggest you serve with greek salad (made up of tomato, cucumber, feta cheese, black olives, red onion and a light olive oil dressing) and souvlaki or some green beans – delicious!

If you're not intending of jetting off to Greece just yet, make a moussaka yourself at home.

This yummy Jamie Oliver recipe serves 4.

Preheat oven: 190oC

Oven time: 25-30 mins

Moussaka Ingredients

5 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
500g minced lamb
glass of red wine (optional)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cinnamon stick, about 4 inches long
pinch of cumin seeds
3 aubergines, sliced
salt and ground black pepper

For the white bechamel sauce

75g butter
75g plain flour
600ml milk
60g parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg yolk
pinch of nutmeg (this is key to its success!)

Moussaka Method

1. In a large pan, gently cook the garlic and onion in 2 tbsp olive oil until the onion has softened.

2. Meanwhile, in a frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and fry the mince until browned. Make sure you don't overheat the oil. Pour off any excess fat and add the mince to the onion and garlic.

3. Add wine, puree, chopped tomatoes, oregano, cumin and cinnamon stick. Simmer uncovered for 1 and a half hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the cinnamon stick and season to taste. Preheat oven to 190C.

4. Fry the aubergine slices in the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil until golden on both sides. Season well with salt and black pepper.

5. Make the white sauce. To make, melt the butter in a pan. Add the flour, stirring until mixture forms a smooth paste. Stir in milk gradually, bring to the boil, stirring, and then simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the nutmeg and, egg yolk, and parmesan.

6. Place a layer of aubergines on the bottom of an ovenproof dish (12x8 inch), followed by half the mince mixture. Add another layer of aubergine, the rest of the mince and finally a final layer of aubergine. Top with the white sauce.

7. Bake the moussaka, uncovered, for about 25-30. Stand for 10-15 minutes and serve with a greek salad or green beans & devour.

Note: The wine gives depth of flavour & colour - if you can't or don't want to use alcohol then try adding some tomato puree mixed with a wine glass of water and a teaspoon of swiss bouillon, and blend in well.

Ground cinnamon can be used instead of the stick if you prefer a more pronounced cinnamon flavour. I use a whole egg in the sauce - not just the yolk, and it's also nice (if not as authentic) topped with a mix of wholemeal breadcrumbs and cheese.

I must admit, it doesn't look much but then again neither does lasagne!

My first moussaka attempt 

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Rocky Road Recipe

I was first introduced to Rocky Road by a friend when at Starbucks; it was so naughty but yet so good. Since then I have tried a number of recipes and I have found Nigella Lawson's "Rocky Road Crunch Bars" from Nigella Express to be my favourite. 

The recipe makes 24 and as you can see from the picture below they are very generous portions.

Rocky Road Recipe

Makes 24

Cooking Time: less than 10 minutes

Preparation Time: less than 30 mins

Rocky Road Ingredients

125g/4½oz soft unsalted butter

300g/10½oz best-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces

3 tbsp golden syrup

200g/7¼oz rich tea biscuits

100g/3½oz mini marshmallows

2 tsp icing sugar, to dust (I forewent this)

Rocky Road Method

1. Heat the butter, chocolate and golden syrup in a heavy-based saucepan over a gentle heat. Remove from the heat, scoop out about 125ml/4½fl oz of the melted mixture and set aside in a bowl.

2. Place the biscuits into a plastic freezer bag and crush them with a rolling pin until some have turned to crumbs but there are still pieces of biscuit remaining.

3. Fold the biscuit pieces and crumbs into the melted chocolate mixture in the saucepan, then add the marshmallows.

4. Tip the mixture into a 24cm/9in square baking tin and smooth the top with a wet spatula.

5. Pour over the reserved 125ml/4½fl oz of the melted chocolate mixture and smooth the top with a wet spatula.

6. Refrigerate for about two hours or overnight.

To serve, cut into 24 fingers and dust with icing sugar. You will thank me.

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Hitting Your Head Against A Brick Wall

Stress can be a slow silent destroyer. It can start with simply too much pressure of one kind or another. The level of this stress can lead to emotional and physical health problems. Our own health doesn't seem to be a priority for many women, our families, certainly. But what about us?

Stress isn't as obvious as a deadline where someone else is going to send a household bill, or cut off the electricity. In order to get a balance we need to look after ourselves in order cope physically and psychologically with everything life throws our way.

Is stress a cause for hair loss?

In my case, yes, it certainly was. A huge chunk of hair seemed to have disappeared from my hairline leaving a shiny bald patch. It hadn't occurred to me that this may be stress related. I tried acupuncture and potions but nothing seemed to work. I started wearing a bold 1920s side parting with lots of gel, way before The Great Gatsby came to our screens. The aim? To cover my very shiny, very obvious bald patch.

It wasn't until I resigned and the next morning I saw fine downy hair where I had my bald spot for nearly a year.  Was my hair loss due to stress? Could it really have been that simple? 

There are many little ways in which to combat stress. Try one of these tips each week, don't try and do it all at once; a little goes a long way. 

Top stress reducing tips:

Just say no

Don't sign up for more responsibility or to do someone another favour just because you can't say no


You may think it is quicker and easier to do it ourselves but we are just fanning the flames. If you continue to fix it for them, they will continue to expect you to continue doing it. You may think that others won't do as good a job as you but even if that's true, is it really worth holding onto that?

Get some shut eye

Tiredness contributes to stress and stress contributes to tiredness. The ideal amount of shut eye of most of us is 8hrs.

One Crisis at a Time rule

Accept you can't do everything all the time, focus on one task, complete it, congratulate yourself and move onto the next. 

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