Guest Post: Roseanne Carrara on Ruins & Mezes: Touring the Eastern Mediterranean and Morocco

Each year, for March Break , I adapt a famous story for the kids, substituting animals for the title characters, and changing the settings as need be. Each tale sets us longing for travel. One dream: to trace the faces of Easter Island’s Moai statues beneath the moonlight, as do the bears in our version of the Bible’s Jacob & Esau story, The Coronation of the Easter Bunny Bear. Another: to visit the churches, greens, and pubs of Ireland frequented, secretly, by A Study in Emerald’s leading snake, Sir Lochrann Holmes and his buddy McUaitson. Three: an eco-tour of B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, whose funds would support the health of the wild salmon population while opposing the trophy hunting of bears, black, white, and grizzly. Maybe, we’d even glimpse a rare white mooksgm’ol, the inspiration for Ahma, the Spirit Bear, our treatment of Jane Austen’s Emma.

Nothing, however, has gotten me closer to phoning a travel agency or booking online than this year’s Bearicles, our take on Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre. The kids and I spent hours mapping the eastern cities of the Ancient Mediterranean (Tyre, Antioch, Ephesus, Tarsus), comparing them to a current map (Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Turkey), and plotting a long, eventful trip of our own! Forays into Mediterranean cooking inspired us all the more. To complement the story, we made Lebanese manakish (flatbreads), Syrian ma’amool cookies, Turkish pide (pizzas), lemony Greek calamari , and baklava! I even went “West” one evening by myself, making a complicated Moroccan tagine. For the kids and I, it was “ruins” and “mezes” (little tastes) all week.

So if money, vacation time, and social and political upheaval were nothing to worry about, my ideal family get-away would be a historical and culinary tour of the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jerusalem) with an extended lay-over in Morocco on the way back home!

1. First stop, Greece, for a view of the Acropolis  and an Epitourean experience in Athens. We’d have a taste of loukomades, a wind around the spice and seafood stalls of the Varvakeios market, and an Ancient Greek dinner. Our next sleep might be in Mytilini, Lesvos , where we’d tour the Medieval Castle, the Ouzo factories, and have a fish feast in the old harbor.

ephesus ancient city

2. Then, Turkey, where the perfect tour has already been planned for us by Truffle Pig. We’d get lost in the streets of Istanbul, visit the Blue Mosque and Topkapi palace, balloon around Capadocia, and visit the ruins of Ephesus, especially the Temple of Artemis, featured prominently in Bearicles. Then, off to Gaziantep for cooking lessons and lots of experimenting with Turkish flavours and food!

3. After a look at the Roman ruins of Apamea , Syria, we might tackle a week-long tour such as this : a taste of baklava and a visit to the souk al-Tanabel market in Damascus, a Bedouin dinner in the desert near the ruins of Palymyra, and dinner and a few cooking tips in the “gastronomic capital,” Aleppo.

4. Next up, Lebanon, with a sure stop at the Temple of Jupiter in the ruins at Ba’albeck. This Taste of Lebanon Culinary Journey offers what we’re after: a seven day journey in which we’d sample Lebanese cuisine, learn how to make sujuk sausage, kibbeh, and Arabic bread, and pay a visit to both a sweets castle and spice fields for za’atar.

5. Our last stop in the East is Israel. First, a glimpse of the ruins of the Knight’s Castle in Arsuf. We’d follow this up with a serious tour of Jeruslaem, including, of course, the Western Wall . We’d love to finish up with one of Tali Freidman’s culinary tours of Jersualem’s famous Mahane-Yehuda market.


6. Last stop, a long lay-over in Morocco, North-Western Africa, where we’d visit the famous Casablanca, ride camels, explore the ancient medinas of Fes, get lost in the spice markets. This would be the ultimate place for a serious family culinary tour, hosted, ideally, by the inspiring Peggy Markel . In Marrakesch, the Atlas Mountains, and Essouaria, we’d learn to cook in the famed tagine, bake bread in wood-fired ovens, eat figs, and see how argan nuts are collected and used for oil.

I can just see us passing through customs after a few good months of travel: bags full of spice jars, pockets filled with sand and rocks, four sizes of tagine, a selection of metal tea pots and cups (for the bears, of course), bottles of ouzo and olive and argan oils, dried salted fish wrapped in paper, silk scarves, wicker hats, sketches of ruins and the sea, stretched waistbands, tanned, happy faces, yes, and hands, four pairs of them, blessed with the ability to re-create most everything we’d tasted in the Mediterranean we’d come to know.


Roseanne Carrara blogs at The Lunchbox Season  and Summer of Funner . These also have a Facebook Page. Her professional site is In Defense of Burning .




Happy Welcome Home, Martin Frobisher Day!

I have a confession to make.  After reading it your opinion of me may drastically change.  Most likely you will shake your head, tsk tsk and wonder how a person can make it through to adulthood and not have an understanding of such elementary cultural celebrations.

My kindergartener son came home from school last week and was bubbling with excitement as he produce from his monogrammed red back pack various crafts and colourings featuring turkeys, cornucopias, and harmonious nuclear families sitting down to feast.  As we sifted through the artwork (destined for the “artwork bin”) he babbled on about Thanksgiving with the same excitement most people have for Christmas (I realize that this is coming).  When his younger brother came home from pre-school he was sporting a construction paper crown that vaguely resembled a turkey – if turkeys had googley eyes and neon yellow and purple feathers.   Naturally this caused a ruckus.  While my oldest was smitten with his own handiwork minutes earlier he desperately coveted the Turkey Crown that his brother was parading around.  His brother was having no part in sharing and made this abundantly clear while announcing to us “My schurckey hat is just for yooking!  No touching!”

Once order was restored with the help of bribery a good heart-to-heart discussion, my boys asked me if I knew what Thanksgiving was.  I chuckled.  Patted their innocent little heads.

“Of course I do, sweeties.”

Okay dear readers, if you know your Canadian history and you are still with me, this is when the headshaking and eyeball rolling will commence.

Obviously it is impossible to celebrate 30 Thanksgiving feasts and not know what it is all about.  It’s when the pilgrims and the natives buried the hatchet and sat down for some turkey, cranberry sauce and corn.  The natives shared their crop so that the land-stealers (err, I mean pilgrims) wouldn’t starve to death.  It is the classic example of putting aside grudges and sharing with others.

Before I shared my cornucopia of knowledge (pun intended), I decided to do a quick cross-reference of my facts.  I figure that the many hours I spent watching American television as a child may not constitute historical accuracy.

Well it is a good thing that I did! Apparently the Seavers and the Huxtables had led me astray.  Blasted American sit-coms!

According to the people at Wikipedia, Canadian Thanksgiving was long celebrated by the First Nations people as a way to give thanks for the bountiful harvest well before any Erikkson, Johnson or Champlain erected a four-bedroom, two-car garage suburban home.  However, when the European settlers did celebrate their first Thanksgiving it was to give thanks that explorer Martin Frobisher had successfully returned home after searching for the Northwest Passage.

It is important to note that the first European Thanksgiving on Canadian soil was to celebrate that Frobisher had returned home.  He had not found the Northwest Passage but he didn’t die a lonely, icy death like Henry Hudson and John Franklin.

So you see Canadian readers, our first Thanksgiving wasn’t about thanking the First Nations people for sharing their bountiful crops with the settlers (and therefore staving off scurvy) or about celebrating a significant geographical find.  In true Canadian form, in was about good manners: hosting an appropriate homecoming for a long-lost traveler.

As we sit down for our harvest feast and give thanks for bountiful crops we have access to, what are you particularly grateful for this year?

I have to admit that I am thankful that the “when in Rome” adage prevailed in Canada because “Happy Thanksgiving” has a much better ring to it than “Happy Welcome Home Martin Frobisher Day”.  Besides which, teachers would have been stymied trying to come up with creative art projects.

P.S.  Don’t feel too badly for Mr. Frobisher.  He has an inlet named for him in the Arctic Ocean and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.  Not too shabby for failing to find the Northwest Passage.

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