Leather-bound journals and fountain pens to record your journeys - real or imagined - along with binoculars and globes, Barcelona, Spain.
Today's armchair travel destination: Morocco!
The books: Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson. You may remember Johnson as author of "Le Divorce," on which the movie starring Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson was based. Johnson's latest book is a fanciful tale of double standards and double agents.
A House in Fez by photojournalist Suzanna Clarke, is the story of Clarke's family restoring a riad in Fez to "its original splendor, using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials." Haven't read it yet, nor had I seen her blog until today. Visit The View from Fez here.
The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah. This is the lively story of a family buying Dar Khalifa, an estate in Casablanca and the trials and tribulations involved in the renovation. It is excellent; I read the entire book on Eurostar during my last trip to London. An excerpt:
"...There was an official-looking Arabic document on the desk. The lawyer ordered me to read it through.
"I don't know Arabic," I said.
"Then you'd better just sign it," he replied, glancing at the Rolex on his wrist. He handed me a Mont Blanc. I signed the paper as instructed.
The lawyer stood up and slid a hefty iron key across the desk. "You are a very brave man," he said.
I pause for a moment to look him in the eye. He didn't flinch. I lifted the key. As I did so, I was knocked to the floor by the force of a violent explosion. The windows blew inwards, shattering with spectacular energy, sending a hailstorm of glass through the office. Deafened, covered in broken glass and confused, I struggled to my feet. My legs were shaking so badly that I had trouble standing. The impeccably dressed legal man was crouched beneath his desk, as if he had previous experience of some kind. He rose silently, dusted the glass from his shoulders, straightened his silk tie and opened the door for me to leave."
Then there's the food. This recipe for "John & Katie's (not too) Spicy Chicken Couscous is scrumptious! It's from the popular London restaurant "Leon," and is featured in their new cookbook "Leon: Ingredients & Recipes" by Allegra McEvedy. Last night, the chef whipped it up in no time. Here's the recipe, which serves six:
4 chicken breasts, skin off, cut into big chunks
2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
a few hefty pinches of ground cinnamon
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
About 8 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons good curry powder
About 8 handfuls of couscous, or around 300g
2 heaping tablespoons butter
2 handfuls of raisins or sultanas
500 ml chicken stock
pine nuts, mint leaves, coriander and lemon, to serve
6 ripe plum tomatoes, cut in halves
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
"Put the chicken pieces into an overproof dish. Mix the chili, cinnamon, garlic, salt, half the olive oil and curry powder together, coat the chicken with it and leave for 20 minutes or so.
"Preheat the oven to 220 celsius/430 Fahreinheit/gas mark 7. Mix the garlic and oil for the tomatoes together. Lay the tomato halves on a thick-bottomed tray and annoint with the garlic/oil mix. Season liberally.
"Meanwhile, put the couscous and sultanas into a bowl and stir with the remaining oil, so that the grains are well-coated. Cover with chicken stock. Lay a tea towel over it and leave for five minutes are so.
"Mix the couscous well into the chicken, pushing the sultanas below the surface (they can burn), dot the tob with knobs of butter and cook on the upper shelf for 25 minutes, putting the tomatoes in beneath them.
"Toast the pine nuts to scatter on the top with chopped mint, coriander and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with the roasted tomatoes."
The films: Couscous. This touching film is about a laid-off shipyard worker who opens a restaurant and the family upheavals that result. Couscous received numerous awards, including 4 Cesars for Best Film and Best Director and a Special Jury Prize for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival.
Caramel won recognition at the Cannes, London and Toronto film festivals for its wonderful, intertwining storyline about five women, three of whom work together in a beauty salon. It is delicious and I urge you to rent the DVD. Enjoy!
Go here to toss your name into the hat for a celebratory giveaway.