Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you.
~Pericles

Ancient, mystical lands ever praised for mesmerizing skies, colorful souks (markets) and seductively rugged landscapes, just became critically strategic. Morocco is seen in the West as a bulwark against the threat of instability from the terrorism and violent fundamentalism spreading throughout North Africa. Faced with the challenges posed by the Arab Spring, King Mohammed VI adroitly negotiated and then held a constitutional referendum on political reforms which was soon followed by multiparty elections. One of Washington’s closest allies in the region, the State Department has now been working feverishly to cement relationships with this land of contrast since the recent appalling deaths of four members of the embassy staff in Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has even praised Morocco as a “leader and a model” in the region.

Threats from Mali after the northern half of the nearby central African state fell under the control of militant, radical concerns have now been coupled with the perceived peril posed by Al-Qaeda affiliates in the Maghreb. The assassination of the U.S. ambassador in Libya, the almost sudden revolutions that toppled leaders elsewhere (including Hosni Mubarak, the former leader of Egypt who was a long-time U.S. ally), the seemingly unending strife in Syria, and the profound uncertainties in Tunisia, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, the region just seems ablaze. The kingdom of Morocco seems a haven of sorts from intolerance and could emerge as a crucial partner there. This makes some sense given recent events and because historically Morocco was the first country to recognize American independence in 1777.

So, on to a memorable Moroccan staple, past and present. Praiseworthy stuff. Couscous should be light and fluffy, not gummy. So, allow the grains to absorb the liquid.

COUSCOUS WITH CHICKPEAS & MINT

1 T coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 t caraway seeds, toasted and ground

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T turmeric
1 T pimenton agridulce
Pinch of cayenne pepper

2 C chickpeas, soaked in water overnight and drained
1 qt chicken stock
1 qt water, warmed
Bouquet garni of parsley and cilantro, tied with twine

1 T tomato paste
2 T harissa, plus more for serving

2 C couscous
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 C stock (reserved)
1 1/2 C water
1/4 C dried currants, plumped in warm water, then drained
1 t finely grated orange zest
3 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a heavy medium dry pan lightly toast the coriander, cumin and carraway until fragrant. Grind in a spice grinder and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it is tender, about 5 minutes, and stir in a generous pinch of salt, the garlic, coriander, caraway, turmeric, pimenton and cayenne. Stir together for about a minute, until the garlic is fragrant, then add the drained chickpeas, stock, water and the bouquet garni. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 1 hour. Add the tomato paste, the harissa and salt to taste. Bring back to a simmer and simmer another 45 minutes, until the chickpeas are tender. Strain but reserve and keep warm 1 cup of the broth and set aside for the couscous.

Add the couscous to a heavy large saucepan with olive oil over medium heat and stir. Then add the warmed stock and water. Gently stir with a fork to combine and cover. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the currants and orange zest and fluff again with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the mint, tossing gently to combine.

Pass harissa in a bowl at the table.

Harissa

2 T cumin, toasted and ground
1 t coriander, toasted and ground
1 t carraway, toasted and ground

1 lb small hot red chilies, roasted and peeled
2 large red bell peppers, roasted and peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 C cilantro, roughly chopped
1 T sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil

Lightly toast and grind the cumin, coriander and carraway. Finely mince the chilies, roasted peppers, lemon and garlic with a knife or food processor. Combine with the cilantro and salt. Transfer to an airtight jar and cover with a light splash of olive oil and place in the refrigerator until needed.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
~Emma Lazarus’ words engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

Ok, Mitt…that’s it. For the most part, I have remained indifferent to this presidential election on here. But, I can no longer sit idly by and suffer this cluelessness and ineptitude. Romney has cavorted from flip-flopper to keenly out of touch to disingenuous and back. So, excuse my words, but they are deserved.

Just think of the last few weeks alone.  First, Mitt carelessly branded Russia as America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Then, he made his much ballyhooed jaunt to Britain, Israel and Poland, only to commit silly diplomatic gaffes upon gaffes. Later, Romney uttered the outrageous statement that it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks” that savagely killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others. Last week, when asked by George Stephanopolous whether $100,000 is considered middle income, he responded: “No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.” Each time, the spin doctors emerged to try to quell the bleeding.

Now, at a $50,000-a-plate closeted fund raiser the former governor turned lifelong political candidate callously remarked that the 47% of Americans who pay no income taxes are people who are: “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

He droned on dismissively to his “have more” base: “(M)y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

It is crucial to remember this — Mitt’s lengthy rant was no brief blunder or momentary slip. No, we have all seen, heard, and maybe even done that. Instead, this was a premeditated discourse reflecting ingrained disdain for the common working man and woman. Romney was candidly sharing the wealthy elite’s long-held, shameful contempt for the unworthy masses. That is and was the overwhelming evidence. His speech alone, and the stream of GOP affirmations afterward are undeniable proof.

Those moochers, those serfs — real people like combat soldiers, college students, scholars, student athletes, public school teachers, seniors, farm workers, low rung researchers, child welfare and medicare recipients, social security beneficiaries, janitors, unpaid spouses, sale clerks, cooks, retirees, aides, mechanics, waiters, lower management, modestly paid workers, wounded veterans, laborers, welfare workers, low income families, the unemployed, the poor, the disabled, and so on — just deserve no place in the GOP’s political calculus. According to Mitt’s mythical math, these freeloaders take pains to avoid paying federal income taxes and wallow around feeling victimized. Those good folks are just another of Romney’s many write-offs — lowly peasants undeserving of his concern.

By the way, what is it about contemptuously calling others “you people” and “those people,” Ann and Mitt? I suspect we all know.

Well, it always does take one of you people to know one of those people, Ann and Willard. Romney has by his own admission been “unemployed” for years choosing instead to carp and complain about others while hiding behind the lectern on his endless campaign trail. Ann does not work and has never paid federal income taxes from a job. Using a host of accountants and lawyers, Romney has also openly benefited from similar federal tax deductions, write-offs, credits and breaks that allow many “entitled” working Americans to avoid paying federal income taxes that would otherwise be due. In 2010 alone, a jobless Romney had a federal adjusted gross income of $21.6 million yet paid only $3 million in income taxes, a measly 13.9% of his annual income. Without the preferential investor treatment offered him under our tax code, Romney avoided federal income taxes at the top marginal rate of 35%, or $7.56 million — affording Mitt a tidy government subsidy on his federal income taxes for that year alone in the amount of $4.56 million.

This makes no mention of Mitt’s mother Lenore Romney’s words: “[George Romney] was a refugee from Mexico (and) was on relief, welfare relief for the first years of his life. But this great country gave him opportunities.” His own father was a public aid recipient as a child — just another one of those victims whose family believed he was “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it” — the part of society’s dregs that Romney so fervently disses.

Seems one Paul Ryan was even tossed in that rank pleb bag with the other deplorable 47%, as an unemployed, student social security survivor beneficiary as well as flipping ­­burgers at McDonald’s, steering the Oscar Mayer wienermobile, and slinging cheap margaritas. But for politics, a slacker most of his life according to his running mate. Perhaps it’s time to peer into the mirrors again, Guv’nor and Robin, before you arrogantly fabricate reality.

Now the Romney campaign is in damage containment mode, feverishly shaking the campaign etch-a-sketch pad (again). Meanwhile, Republican Senate candidates in tight races have rapidly distanced themselves from their presidential ticket. Of course, there was no hint of apology or repentance from the Romney camp. Contrition, however slight, is just not part of their vocabulary. Ann Romney said her hubby’s comments were “taken out of context” and the notably subterranean Paul Ryan mentioned that his boss’ words were “inarticulate.” Right wing pundits used words like “confused,” “messed up,” “inartful,” less than “ideal language,” then inexplicably twirled to “factually accurate,” “the truth,” and a “win for Romney.” For his part, Romney first grinned saying that his comments were “not elegantly stated,” and “off the cuff,” then clumsily pirouetted to an argument against the redistribution of wealth, now asserting he believed in an America where “government steps in to help those in need,” because “we’re a compassionate people.” Really? Remember, Mitt, you spouted that those people on the back side are not worthy of your attention.

No amount of truth spinning or word warping can make this right. It is flat wrong, even insulting, to directly pander to the underprivileged, unemployed, and middle/lower income earners and then treat them with utter disdain behind closed doors. Romney has shown a merciless lack of empathy for and now has openly denigrated nearly half of the citizens of this nation. Apparently, that is just another plank in his bewildering and bleak political ideology that he prays will span to the White House (built by the 47%).

Seems a long simmering stew is in order.

RAGOUT D’AGNEAU PROVENCAL (LAMB STEW PROVENCAL)

4 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry thoroughly
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T duck fat
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 onions, peeled, halved and sliced
3 medium heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 C dry red wine
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C beef stock
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium eggplant, stemmed, cut into chunks
2 red peppers, seeded, roasted and cut into strips
2-3 medium zucchini, cut into chunks

Heat oven to 300 F

Sprinkle the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Heat duck fat and olive oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the lamb nicely on both sides. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven and cook the onions until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. While the onions are browning, peel, quarter and seed the tomatoes over a sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices. Reserve the tomatoes and juice. Pour the tomato juice into a 2 cup glass and then add enough red wine to fill. Deglaze the onions with the combined stocks, stirring up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add the wine and tomato juice mixture. Add the browned lamb, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and garlic.  Cover and bake about 1 hour 30 minutes.

While the lamb cooks, salt the eggplant and set in a colander to drain, about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.   Once the lamb has cooked as above, add the eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, cover and cook for another 1 hour.

Then,  remove the lid, add the zucchini and cook another 30 minutes uncovered.

 Remove from the oven and discard the herbs. Spoon the lamb stew onto plates over artisinal noodles.

I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry.
~Rita Rudner

When walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with my youngest son this spring, we could not help but notice the slew of padlocks in varying shapes, sizes and hues each etched with initials, maybe an image and sometimes brief vows.  Apparently, the keys had been hurled into the East River while the padlocks remained hooked on the bridge as symbols of perpetual locked in love.  We even took pics of them.  At first, it seemed cute but in retrospect, it seemed a tad odd.  Then, when we celebrated my oldest son’s and fine woman’s nuptials last weekend, th0se images recurred yet hopes were revived and thoughts about love, like the wine, flowed freely.

Apparently across the pond, on Paris’ most iconic bridges, such as the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archevêché, visitors have similarly affixed padlocks to the metal railings and fencing.   Once done discreetly by night, many began acting brazenly in broad daylight, two by two and sometimes more, filming faces in front of  colorful locks, and videoing the throwing of  keys into the Seine. Natives and local politicians alike expressed concerns about aesthetics and the architectural integrity of the festooned bridges.  Although many denizens consider the locks an eyesore, others find them charming. One night, someone actually cut through the wires and removed all the locks on one of the bridges and discarded them.  But in just a short while, the locks reappeared, this time more conspicuously than ever.  For many tourist couples, these locks and the keys tossed into the romantic river that courses the City of Light were symbols of that often elusive everlasting amour, of abiding adoration.  Pas là, pas de tout — as many French find such declarations less than amorous.  To use lock and key as a metaphor for eternal affection seems strangely antithetical there and bespeaks of confinement. 

In Paris (and elsewhere), love is understood to be tinged with risk. That sounds a touch incongruous, as little in this world is more difficult yet more valuable than love…the very boon of humanity, and there can be nothing more bewitching or treasured.  At the same time though, love can be fragile and unsettling, and early romance can be clothed in uncertainty.  Love can be hazardous, sometimes on the brink of agony, and often vulnerable and insecure.  Even damned lonely.

So, the notion that love is locked up forever by tossing that key in the drink, is thought a vacuous rite, a childish fantasy that can even enslave.  Soulful love is not to be imprisoned or controlled, and the goal is not to entrap or ensnare one another.  Rather, love’s sublime fragility should be embraced with each urging the other to be free.  Love is to be shared simply and fervently, without pride — where each is gazed at head to toe often in poor lighting and yet somehow, despite conspicuous faults and frailties, each passionately embraces and patiently cherishes one other.  True lovers do not just appeal to the eye, they look beyond into mind and imagination.  Empathy, which derives from the Greek empatheia (“passion”), should reign and must be rekindled throughout the shared voyage. 

Above all, avoid getting too serious about things like love locks.  Mates must always laugh together, as when humor is lost, so is footing.

Ok, so enough sap and on to food.  For lovers should ever delight in the sensual and revel in lust.

SEARED FOIE GRAS WITH WHITE WINE REDUCTION & APPLES

3 T unsalted butter
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3 T apple cider vinegar
1-2 T honey

4 – 6 oz slices of fine grade foie gras, about 3/4″ thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 C good quality late harvest white (the rest chilled for a toast)
Equal parts of orange, lime and grapefruit zests
1/4 t fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/4 t fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T unsalted butter, cut into smaller pieces

4 slices brioche, 1/2″ thick

Melt the butter in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the apples, apple cider vinegar, and drizzle with honey. Cook, stirring occasionally, turning once, until the apples are golden, soft and tender, about 5-8 minutes. Drain, arrange on a platter, tent with foil, and set aside.

Gently score the foie gras slices with a diagonal pattern on one side only. Season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium high. In batches, place foie gras slices in the pan and sear until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside to rest.

Pour the excess pan drippings out of the pan, reserving about 3 tablespoons of drippings for the reduction. Deglaze the pan with the grapefruit juice over medium high heat, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula. Simmer until the juice is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, orange, lime and grapefruit zests, rosemary, thyme and simmer for about one minute or so. Add the butter, remove from the heat, and whisk until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler.

Using a 3″ round cookie cutter, cut the brioche into rounds and place them on a baking sheet. Toast under the broiler until golden brown on each side.

To assemble, place the brioche toasts in the center of serving plates. Lay the foie gras slices on top of the brioche. Arrange the golden, almost caramelized apples around the foie gras toasts, and drizzle the reduction sauce over the top of the foie gras.

Serve by candlelight, clothing optional, with a grand Bordeaux and loving partner.

“The truth is I’m getting old,” I said. “We already are old,” she said with a sigh. “What happens is that you don’t feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it.”
~Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

A pathetic attempt at an empty chair stunt interspersed with a rambling monologue disguised as an endorsement speech at the Republican National Convention. There comes a time, Clint, and it was well before the other night.  (Just a suggestion–if you truly care tell him “no more, babe” on your reality TV spot, Dina.)

A strangely dawdling and disheveled Eastwood was not greeted by curtain calls or roses afterwards. Mocked and ridiculed, words like debacle, bizzare, odd, incoherent, surrealistic, clownish, and awkward welcomed him off stage, in print and on line. The Romney team distanced themselves from his crass, ad-libbed performance and accusations ensued. “Not me’s!” echoed through the convention halls.  Even nicely nice Ann offered a lukewarm review, branding it unique (translation?) and later suggesting she would have preferred the family scrapbook video as opposed to the The Outlaw Josie Wales backdrop for an intro. As NPR correspondent Mara Liasson remarked, seeing Ann Romney during the octogenarian’s address was like watching “the mother of the bride listening to a drunken wedding toast.” Some finger pointing was deserved as it seems Clint, who is no thespian by any stretch, was not prepped or vetted by any Romney advisor before his disastrous improvisation. Nor did he seem in the least bit prepared. He simply was furnished the bare prop, mumbled some hollow assurances, and then bombed on air.

A few words on the empty chair technique, in case you may not know, Clint and friends. A long used device in therapy and courtroom circles, it should be thoroughly thought out, choreographed, and rehearsed repeatedly as there are no re-shoots, cuts or edits.  A contrivance not to be undertaken half-assed, or…well, you saw.  Chair placement and angle, audience and speaker distances and positions should be properly portioned, aligned “on stage.” The empty chair should be an intimate, interactive, seemingly spontaneous moment where the onlooker engages in a role-played conversation with an imagined person (here, President Obama). Questions from the speaker must be carefully crafted: concise, pointed, pithy, curtly phrased with pregnant pauses, open ended yet slightly suggestive, collaborative, never rambling, with no obvious answers flagrantly offered by the orator. In a persuasive setting, non-verbal gestures are used to anchor the messages. While the audience chimes in, the missing soul in the empty chair is made to silently bear the story of his supposed culpability. Once that Harvey in the chair has been blamed, simply walk away or embrace depending on the scene. The audience’s feelings and catharsis, not the speaker’s, are paramount. On almost all counts, the gimmick failed and was a flop. With one exception–Clint’s aimless “speech” seemed metaphorical.  An old white man’s meandering rant at an imaginary black president.

Ironically, a few months ago in Detroit another old white man delivered what was originally billed as a cornerstone economic speech to a whole sea of empty chairs. Are there common threads?

Since you went ahead and made our day fellas, we can regale in some zesty fare down Yucatán way.

POLLO EN ESCABECHE (CHICKEN WITH VINEGAR)

8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 t whole black peppercorns
1/4 t allspice berries
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t cumin seeds
1 t dried oregano
Pinch of sea salt

1-2 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 t all purpose flour

3 1/2 C chicken stock
3 1/2 C cold water
2 1/2 lbs. (8) chicken thighs
1 medium carrot, thickly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 t coarsely ground black pepper
1 t cumin seeds
1 t dried oregano
3 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Sea salt

1 T all purpose flour
2 medium white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 anaheim peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into strips
2-3 T canola or extra virgin olive oil
3 T apple cider vinegar

Roast garlics in a heavy skillet over medium heat until soft inside, about 15 minutes. Remove from pan, allow to cool, then peel off and discard the skins. Mince and set aside. Roast the peppercorns, allspice, cloves, cumin and oregano in a small to medium heavy sauté pan until aromatic. Do not burn. Allow to cool and then grind in a spice grinder or coffee mill devoted to that purpose. Transfer to a small bowl and add salt. Mash the herbs and spices and garlic together to form a smooth paste, thoroughly working in the cider vinegar and flour. Let stand overnight in the refrigerator in a sealed container before using.

Bring stock and water to a boil in a large, heavy Dutch oven, and add chicken to cover. Skim off foam that rises during the first few minutes of simmering. Add carrot, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin, oregano, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, garlic, and salt. Partially cover and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, until the juices run clear when the thighs are pierced. Remove pan from the heat and with a slotted spoon, remove thighs from the broth, arrange in a baking dish, and tent with foil. Strain broth, skim fat and set aside about 2-3 cups.

Rub one-half of reserved spice paste over the skin side of the chicken and place in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours. Then, lightly dust the spice covered side of the chicken with flour, shaking off any excess.

Drizzle oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add chicken, skin side down, and sauté until crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Drain, place in a baking dish and tent.

Return the pan to the heat and add onions and chilies. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, reserved broth and remaining spice paste, stirring to dissolve. Simmer for several minutes to blend the flavors. Taste for seasonings and add whatever is missing. Serve in shallow bowls, topped with a dollop of the onion mixture and some reserved broth.