For the first month in Rabat, it was all sunshine all the time. Just when my stateside friends started posting about pumpkins, a chill and rain blew in to Rabat. No changing leaves, but still I’ll gladly take semi-autumnal sweater weather as an excuse to make soup. Around the same time, our stuff arrived! One Saturday, a moving truck pulled up delivering all our worldly possessions. It didn’t take long to set it all up, and it looks really good and our apartment feels homey. (An apartment tour blog post is in the near future!) So what do I do when the arrival of our dishes, platters, pitchers, cooking gadgets, and furniture coincides with the most craveable season of food? Host a fall dinner party, obvi.
Our first dinner party in a new place is a special milestone. It means we’ve met enough people whom we call friends, which is big. It also signifies a certain about of mastery of the new city – I knew the one place that sells kale, for instance, and I’ve found a baguette that is as good as in Paris.
So this past Sunday, I woke up and got started on party prep. Well, first I made Adam a birthday omelette. Then I sent him off to get have a birthday hammam and massage at the Sofitel Hotel. Then, I got to work. The rain drizzled outside as I shelled peas (which, oddly, are just now in season). A new true crime podcast called Bear Brook provided the soundtrack for wiping dirt from heaps of mushrooms and chopping lots of onions. It felt seasonal AF and I was enjoying myself immensely. Until I had a cooking catastrophe.
The day before, I had made a huge pot of vegetable stock, which I then strained into various mason jars. I also had made a spiced simple syrup, and I poured that dark fragrant syrup into mason jar. On Sunday, I had the mushroom bourguignon simmering on the slowcook function of my Instant Pot and the kitchen was smelling very fall-y. A mix of rich mushroom stew and… pumpkin pie. This got me thinking about the cocktail I’d serve that evening: A spiced old fashioned. I opened the fridge and confirmed a suspicion planted by the too-sweet aroma coming from the crockpot: When I was filling up the crockpot with broth, one of the jars I’d poured in was the spiced simple syrup. Know what mushroom stew doesn’t call for? Two cups of sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves. I tasted it and let me tell you, there’s a reason mushrooms aren’t dessert.
I’m just now remembering that I did something similar once before. Back when I lived in Yemen, mushrooms were non-existent as they probably are in most bone dry countries. While in Yemen, Adam and I went to Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam for our delayed honeymoon and I’d filled my suitcase with dried mushrooms, a risky move when returning to a place like Yemen where your suitcases will definitely be checked by security. I forget exactly what I made, but I recall cooking brunch for ten people and a mushroom cream sauce factored in. A few minutes into eating, I realized the whipping cream I’d added to the sauce was sweetened.
Sugary mushrooms weren’t good then, and they still aren’t good. Not only had it taken quite some time to prepare all the mushrooms and chop the onions and carrots for the Pumpkin Spice Mushroom Bourguignon I’d inadvertently concocted, but I had made a special trip the most beautiful grocery store in town to get lots of really good fresh shiitake and button mushrooms. Not cheap, either. I dumped the candied stew, threw on a rain coat and headed across the street to the far less gourmet grocery store.
I was rather flustered when I arrived. I saw only two packages of white button mushrooms, and so I did an ugly American thing and asked the vegetable girl, who speaks no English “Do you have more mushrooms in the back!? I need a lot more.” Now I don’t actually speak French, but I do speak menu, so I could have asked that question in French. It occurred to me later I could have even asked it in Arabic! But I was in a rush and chose not to even try. A woman standing behind me said “You know, here we speak Arabic and French.”
I turned to an older lady in a flowered headscarf. She was smiling. She wasn’t trying to be snarky but my first thought was “Ugh, I don’t need this, lady.”
“I know,” I said. “And I’m in French classes. I’m sorry, I’m just stressed.”
“You don’t need classes,” she continued. “You should watch YouTube, that’s how I learned English. Or, just look up recipes in French and you will learn.”
“Yes, okay,” I said.
“But you really do need to speak French.”
“I will. It’s just something bad happened and I ran over here really fast.”
The woman weighing my vegetables (yes, this is a weigh-your-vegetables-before-the checkout country, like Spain, except a produce section clerk weighs them for you here in Morocco) asked the older woman what the bad thing was. Did someone die?
They both looked at me to tell them the bad thing that had happened and I almost burst into tears because the actual bad thing that had happened, well damn there were so many last week. A racist set out kill a church full of people and then murdered two random black people in a parking lot; a hateful vanman mailed bombs to Democrats; a dozen elderly people – including a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor for goodness sake – shot dead because a terrorist ardently believes in ridiculous anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and because assault weapons in America are more readily available than shiitake mushrooms.
So I felt like a real idiot pantomiming to them that the “very bad thing” that had happened was I added sugar syrup to my mushroom stew and didn’t realize it until a few hours before my dinner guests came over. They were sympathetic though, and plenty more mushrooms were located in the back.
And so I went home with a sack o’shrooms, turned on my cold case podcast, and created the whole dish over again.
And it was delicious. And the dinner party was a lot of fun. Yummy, cozy, non-stop conversation, and cementing new friendships over spiced old fashioneds (what if I had done veggie broth old fashioneds just for balance?) and plenty of wine.
This was a “fall dinner party” and not “Adam’s 36th Birthday Party” as per his instructions, but nonetheless, we sang happy birthday over some salted butterscotch pots de créme, one of our absolute favorite desserts and a steady go-to for me, a cook who does not enjoy baking.
Here’s the menu:
- Spiced Old Fashioneds
- Cheese board (brie with fig jam, comté, a local runny cheese that was heaven, French butter with salt crystals, some olives, sun dried tomatoes in oil, and sliced baguette
- Fresh pea soup, drizzle of smoked paprika cream, garlic croutons
- Smitten Kitchen’s kale salad with pecorino and walnuts (used parmesan instead of pecorino, which I haven’t found here)
- Pumpkin carpaccio with sage butter, pine nuts, créme fraîche
- Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom bourguignon , served over egg noodles, with a dallop of sour cream and parsley.
- Butterscotch pots de creme with caramel sauce and whipped cream. (Here’s the Food and Wine recipe I use, but I prefer the salted caramel sauce recipe from Brown Eyed Baker, and only put a touch of salt in it because I sprinkle Maldon sea salt flakes over the finished product).
To fall dinner parties, to mushrooms, and to labeling your jars,