[Morning cup, Casablanca, Morocco, 2015.]
About two years ago around this time I was in the home stretch of writing my book and had a little tumbler in my belly reminding me of her presence with every turn and flick of her very tiny toes. We were moving to North Africa in a few short months and when I had time to think about it I was filled with a nervous mix of trepidation and excitement. Flash forward to today, when we woke up earlier than usual, dined on granola and yogurt and banana chunks, and went out to stroll the neighborhood, me with my much-needed coffee in hand. My little tumbler is now a sturdy walker who gets her hands dirty at every opportunity (much to the chagrin of the neighbors/maids/nannies but I’m not anti-grit by any means) and says a cheerful ‘hi’ to all who cross her path. Our time in North Africa is rapidly coming to a close, just in time for me to actually accept that woah, we’re living in Africa. I never would have anticipated that occurrence a decade ago.
[Scenes from the neighborhood, Casablanca, Morocco.]
We move out of this house on Thursday and I find that I am strangely filled with regret and an underlying wish for more time. Or the chance to do things differently (and also more time). 2014 was a challenging year for me, not least of all because it was my first of motherhood but also because of where we live. By that I don’t mean Casablanca necessarily but the reality of being placed in a quasi-suburb/gated community in a pretty rundown house with nothing much to do nearby and a kind of stressful driving scene to brave if ever you want to go anywhere (I’m fine with it now but those early days of navigating Casa’s roads were fairly intense). Add to that a husband who traveled about once a month sometimes for up to a week at a time and you have a recipe for some real morose navel-gazing. Nothing like jumping in the deep end! Especially when your French is rusty and your Darija non existent. So I feel like I’ve failed Morocco. I didn’t embrace it as much as I could have/wanted to. Water under the bridge, sure. But it still stings.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during these many months in Casablanca it’s that I am a city person — and no one is more surprised than me to realize that. I love the wild parts of Point Reyes and Sonoma County and happily can walk off into the back country of the Sierras for days to feel that silence seep into my soul. When I’m out there I wish to stay forever and make my home against a granite slope. But I’m no John Muir, much as I might wish to be. I think for the day to day it’s the city life for me.
I like to walk to stuff, to grab a coffee, to be immersed in the vitality and energy of a city even if it’s dirty or congested or or or. I like hearing the junk man wend his way between buildings calling out what I swear sounds like ‘weed’ every 30 seconds or so and kids going to and from school. To pop into a store for vegetables and fruit rather than dealing with driving. I’ve lived in major cities since 2000 and have become accustomed to what that means and I guess – well, I know – that I like it. I wish we’d listened to our first instincts when we arrived, which told us to try to get reassigned to an apartment more ‘in town’ and closer to work and things to do. I firmly believe my experience here would have been 100% more pleasant for many reasons, mostly because I would not have felt nearly as isolated. I could’ve walked to a grocery store for cripe’s sake. Grabbed a cup of coffee with a friend without having to wrestle child and traffic. The little things I perhaps took for granted about city living – and of course that life is not without its own frustrations and irritations – I sorely missed and didn’t realize it until it was a bit too late to do anything about it.
(Then again we’d never have met Rachid and waved to his horse, chased the motley crew of stray cats around the neighborhood, or giggled over the beautiful dog Irka who lives a few doors down. The road not taken, especially when you’re on the cusp of change, can be an enticing one. Such is life. I hope that in two years it’s either San Francisco or bust, high rent and all, or a more urban lifestyle somewhere else.)
So now we’re leaving on a reassignment to a place where I don’t have to worry about driving because it will be illegal for me to do so (for better or worse) and we’ll be living in the oddest sort of isolated – yet large? – suburb yet. Good thing I’ve had practice. Mostly all I can think is: Morocco, I wish we hadn’t gotten off on the wrong foot back in 2013 because there’s so much we still have to discover about each other.
This is a weird into to a recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies but hey, I’m experiencing a lot of nostalgia and all the feels today apparently so there you have it. And I honestly don’t want to leave this recipe hanging without sharing it. I first made it back in December so it’s been long enough already.
I can’t remember why I wanted to make vegan cookies except for I was probably out of butter or eggs and didn’t have access to the car so I couldn’t replenish my supplies. My crumbling house for a smaller apartment with a higher walkability score! Sigh. Anyway, I’ve done vegan chocolate chippers before but wanted to try something new. Thanks to a recipe that comes via the bakery Ovenly’s newish cookbook I found the vegan cookie of my dreams. Or maybe simply the cookie of my dreams. And yours too?
When I was pitching the idea for my cookbook I remember using phrases like ‘desserts so good it doesn’t matter that they’re gluten-free!’ in order to entice my editor to take on the project. This wording certainly is overused when describing dishes that are ‘lacking’, i.e. gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, insert name of special diet here and it sort of makes me crazy. Why not just say these cookies are so good! full stop? But I know, I know this is an easy access point and regardless of any personal feelings on the subject I’ll go ahead type it out … ‘these chocolate chip cookies are so good you’ll never even know they’re vegan!’ And it’s true: while it may seem sacrilegious to admit I don’t miss the butter here at all. I find I prefer them over most others because they’re easier to put together and I can spoon up the batter straight from the bowl without worrying about any weird and pesky egg issues. If, you know, that’s important to you.
Plus, they’re that perfect blend of sweet-salty that I cannot resist. I’ve doctored the recipe up a bit as is my habit but click the link below to see it as originally written. However you make it I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Off we go to the next experience … I’ll take any luck you want to throw my way. And I hope to catch up here again very soon.
Note: I’ve tried letting my dough sit in the fridge overnight as the recipe dictates and I’ve also baked them straight after putting the dough together. I can’t tell much of a difference despite the quite strong advice to fridge/freeze the dough. So, it’s up to you. I’ve also made this recipe using whole wheat pastry flour, a half-half mix of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flours, and this latest incarnation included below which I think is my favorite yet (just know you can experiment a bit with the flours if you like). I’ve included a gluten-free flour option if you are so inclined.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
gluten-free option: 1 cup g-f oat flour, 1/2 cup sweet white rice flour, 1/2 cup brown rice flour, 1 teaspoon flaxmeal, all whisked together
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 ¼ cup dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
Coarse-grained sea salt for garnish
Heat the oven to 350° F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips to the flour mixture and toss to coat.
In a separate large bowl, whisk the sugars briskly with the canola oil and water until smooth and incorporated, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the molasses and vanilla. (Note: use fresh, soft light brown sugar. If there are clumps, break them up with the back of a spoon or your hand before whisking. My note: I’ve also used dark brown sugar with good results.)
Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, and then stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula until just combined and no flour is visible. Do not overmix.
Using a tablespoon or cookie scoop, scoop out dough and place about an inch apart on the prepared sheet.
Sprinkle the balls of dough with coarse-grained sea salt, place in the oven, and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until the edges are just golden. Do not overbake.
Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.