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Yellow Submarine

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I never particularly liked the Beatles. Well, that is not true. I did LOVE ‘Yellow Submarine’ when I was a kid. I had one of those baby record players with the plastic indestructible records, I only had 3 and one of them was ‘Yellow Submarine’. I played it maybe a 10 thousand times…..

Today I was looking for symbols of peace to post on our Flying Carpet Facebook. If you did not know both my husband and I are Muslims, and I am really feeling ashamed, vulnerable, sad and helpless with all the shit going down in the world. I wanted to post something that would reflect our allegiance with all humanity. I *really* want to put a star of David on the rooftop of The Flying Carpet, a Crucifix at the order window…I want to shout from the roof tops that we are NOT terrorists, we do not sympathize with their ideologies nor do we accept the tenants of their politics……but that is not realistic. So here I am searching Google images of ‘Peace’ and what up comes is a  picture of John Lennon. I fell to pieces when I saw it….sobbing really. How long had I denied you John? How long had I dismissed your lyrics as naïve and irrelevant? I remember when I actually listened to 'Imagine' the song. I was in my teens driving with a friends; as soon as the song came on the car went quiet and the volume was turned up. I listened unaffected. I thought the melody was nice but the lyrics! This guy has smoked too much weed, had too much money and has lost God in his assent to fame and wealth…..I thought to myself.

Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s made me insecure. My parents had left the Catholic Church and we now went to Unity Church that ‘hugged’ as a part of the ceremony (can you imagine hugging strangers!), self-help books, and a few crystals started to lay around the house. I was sent to meditation classes. My mother discovered she maybe of Jewish ancestry and was fervently reading everything she could about it. For a girl who grew up going to Catholic school this was a hard pill to swallow. Most of my friends parents we getting divorced and at some point I heard of a ‘key party’ happening in Barton Hills. We were latch key kids and spent most of our time at home alone. In my child’s mind I determined that all things New Age (including John Lennon, Feminists, and Crystal Lovers) were a threat to my intact family home. I quit going to Unity church with the folks and headed back to the quiet ritual and familiar rhythm of Mass. What can I say? Kids need consistency and Jesus is awesome.

Now I am about to turn 45. I am married to a Moroccan Muslim Man. An incredible man, so full of love it brims out of him like a fountain. We have a son just as sweet. I converted to Islam about 14 years ago. I took my shahada (conversion ceremony) without Abdu’s knowledge. I practiced Islam moderately for about 11-12 years. Last year I decided (for my own personal self) that I no longer wanted to be any one religion. That my religion was LOVE. I did not like the divisions religion created. I decided I loved all the prophets and all the people who followed them. I still identify culturally as a Muslim. If I am going to pray I prefer to pray with Muslims although I can fellowship with people of ANY faith and do regularly. I am at home in a Mosque and find Muslims to be incredible welcoming and kind people. I know I am a ‘out there’ kind of Muslim….but guess what? I was an ‘out there’ kind of Catholic…..I believe we ALL have a place at the table of God…..and I always have. I remember as a child gardening with my mother. Putting my hands in the earth, it was summer and dirt was warm, there were worms in it; I could feel the buzz of insects flying around me and sweat dripped from my head. I laid down on belly so I could ‘feel’ the earth below me, I heard the heart beat of the world that day. I blinked my eyes and let the soil stick to the side of my face as I watched my beautiful mother plant rows of pink flowers. That was the day God made him/herself known to me. Even then I knew she/he was too much to contain in any one book or human mind, and so I accepted him like this, in the dirt, with the hum of bees and the whisper of wings.

Here I am now looking at a picture of John Lennon FINALLY realizing that ‘Imagine’ was not trivial or naïve. This Godless song was in truth, God’s song.

So from my family to yours:

We love you….whatever you believe in….whatever color you are….wherever you came from, whoever you choose to love, and however you celebrate life.

Here’s to you John wherever you are; I got the message and thank you.

IMAGINE

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

 

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‘Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.’ Rumi

Well rested, tried, true and yes, motivated. The trip to Morocco brought forth emotions and revelations that were mixed, harried, sublime and bitter sweet. Living between two worlds is a tragic beautiful existence, much like being an entrepreneur; every day is a cliff dive paired with a great martini. Coming home was momentarily depressing. The trailer lot and building were trashed, half our plants died, our office and catering stash was a mash up from gigs done right before we left. Inspections were due for the trailer and our catering van needed tags, title and taxes paid. Not to mention that in our absence the bills and responsibilities did not disappear only lingered waiting for our return. Like children we contemplated running back to the olive groves, giant figs, expansive beaches and the vistas of our small farm in Morocco. On the precipice of closing The Flying Carpet, considering everything we would lose or gain we decided to keep going. There is no reticence in our return, rather a smoldering passion relit.  

As I tie up my 7th black trash bag of leaves mixed with trash (the condo construction next door has provided our lot with non-stop trash and foot traffic) I watch the sweat drip from my face to the dirt on the ground. I stretch my back as the sun beats down on me. My heart is beating hard and my mind is still. This is what it is about. Not just the food. It is about the bills, the trash, the marketing, the other trailers we rent to, the cleaning, the decorating, the negotiating and the shopping. It’s about the time with my sweet giant husband. His heart literally moves me to tears. We are moving mountains together, and however non-glamorous it seems; it is at these moments that I feel closest to my true meaning. Not when we do a TV spot or get written up in a magazine. When I am in the hot trailer listening to Santigold and watching Abdu on the grill at 9:30 PM on a Wed. night. It is when I am working with all of my body that I know what we are doing is right. Is it worth it? Not really applicable. Every moment is its own universe, so ‘right’ is where I want to be, let the cards fall where they may. The result, the end of the journey while ultimately important is NOT the measure of my happiness. It comes slowly with each movement, with a knife, a rake, a dish rag, or my own hands. Symmetry is overrated. Things are good here is the grey area, where lines are blurred and we just accept the messiness and heat.  

What my trip to Morocco taught me? To relax and stretch my body. To breath in the moment with my soul and stop the internal dialogue. To thoughtfully choose my food, it is OK to go hungry in search of the ‘right’ food. To believe in the divine mystery, things just do not HAVE to line up….further and most amazing revelation …when something is flawed, off, or hard to understand it can transcend limitation and become an all-encompassing feeling of truth and beauty.

Yes there were incredible meals with amazing bright beautiful people. Morocco is a hauntingly beautiful country. There were adventures and trials, and I am sure we will tell you many stories; but at its heart, our trip was a revelation how to live life well. I will let our food take you to all the places we went in Morocco. I will let it express our love, surrender and abandon. I will let it tell the story of finding nothing and then everything all at the same time.

We are cleaning and reorganizing our business. Things must change this year. We hope to be open Saturday September 5th. Thank you for your patience and support. I cannot wait to see you again.

Abdu and his beautiful mother.......love this one

Abdu and his beautiful mother.......love this one

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The Sauce March 26, 2011

I often write about the ‘sauce’ often on our Facebook wall. I write about the sauce because it is made almost daily and it is one of the most labor intensive things I prepare. You could say the sauce is my culinary equivalent to a lover. Like a lover, I need it, I love and hate it and spend much time with it. It is a Charmilla recipe as old as Morocco and I imagine every Moroccan family has a variation of it. It is so versatile that it can be used for half of the dishes Moroccans cook. It is, as someone at the trailer pointed out, a ‘tomato reduction’ but to me it is much more.

When I first saw it made I was with my husband in a tiny apartment on North Lamar. He was making a simple Moroccan classic; tomatoes and eggs. He started with the tomato sauce. He peeled each tomato meticulously, and when I asked him why (my mother never took the time to peel tomatoes) he said “because that is the way my family does it”. It was a reoccurring answer to my questions regarding Moroccan cooking.

Being so unabashedly in love with Abdu I set about ‘becoming’ a Moroccan woman. I knew instinctively that food would be a portal to his world; and I was right. I have since made many other Moroccan dishes but none of them are as nostalgic as the sauce. The sauce was the first thing Abdu ever taught me and it has been the thing we eat when we are poor and when we are in clover. It is good with eggs, fish, beef and just by itself. It is tied to a memory of new love and the beginning of an epic food journey.

I make the sauce for The Flying Carpet, and to be honest the sauce and I almost broke up when Abdu and I first opened the trailer. Making it in large quantities was quite an ordeal. Peeling that many tomatoes was tough not to mention all the other things the sauce requires. I became resentful of the sauce. Abdu was irritated and I was despondent. For a time I was making sauce with my hands and my head but not my heart. Like many things in life, with time and practice comes ease, and the sauce was no exception. I got good at making large batches. I rediscovered my love for the sauce and in doing so felt stronger in my own convictions to never cut corners when making it. Abdu was right.

 

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This Feeling Has Got To Stay March 8, 2011

 

New menu, new signage, new attitude, and new challenges. Will we survive the year? Will we be here in 2012?  As the owners of a trailer with no food industry experience and no start up fund, Abdu and I have faced innumerable challenges. The challenges range from the comic to the comically tragic. We have learned much about service, food preparation, business, money, loyalty, family, friends and hard work. The most profound revelations have been inward, where things get icky and lines are blurred. How a person faces incredible stress and deprivation with ones mate and still finds enough stillness in the day to enjoy the other person. How much your family and friends love you and desire your success and happiness.

METEORIC LESSONS: BIG portions are important, giving someone a free meal is awesome and you are not a chump for giving it away even if they never come back, plan ahead, plan ahead, get organized, get organized, pay your taxes on time (there is a 50 dollar penalty for being late), dirty water sucks, our trash can is lamentably public so the amount of trash we deal with will never change, music can literally get you through a 17 hour day, and the act of creation feels damn good.

WE THOUGHT RIGHT: Food quality is appreciated, no short cuts in food preparation, putting your true self into something although not always understood will be appreciated, esoteric expressions in food should never be avoided but embraced, even encouraged, classic recipes are not insulted by revisions, making more money can never be the ultimate goal to be personally successful and is not always the true sign of a professionally successful person, and finally Moroccan food is AWESOME.

WHY? There was a night (not too long ago) when Abdu and I pulled up to the trailer with a car load full of beautiful food, an empty tank of gas and 3 dollars to our name; literally. I put the three dollars in the register and prayed we had customers. We did. In fact, we had enough customers to fill our tank and get a bit of groceries. When stripped of the most basic comforts our vision became clear and our desire to succeed was not thwarted, just challenged. We cook for a living this is true, but in a greater sense we cook out of a love for the people we serve. Back to basics, we thrive in the financial dessert we call home and have made peace with the uncertainty of the universe.

Here’s to food trailers all over the world, street vendors, gypsies, artists, and anyone who decided to write his own music. My glass is raised and I cannot wait to take another drink.

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Work With What You Have and What You Have Will Work April 2011


In any small business venture the way you ‘present’ yourself can be the difference between survival and sure death. Being a proprietor of a food trailer with no marketing funds whatsoever was disheartening. I knew from my own experience as a diner that the way a business ‘looked’ was important. It is a rare breed of person that will go to an unheard of, old, dirty, discombobulated, or strange looking restaurant to try new food and as an ‘ethnic’ food trailer we knew that the way everything ‘looked’ would be more scrutinized.

WE DID WHAT WE COULD AND IT LOOKED ‘OK’

We bought a small pretty green trailer and filled it with good clean equipment. My uncle graciously hand painted our signs and my mother donated two big hibiscus plants in beautiful oversized tangerine colored pots. We pulled some Moroccan lamps from our home to adorn the trailer and I picked flowers from my garden for table arrangements. Every time I lamented the décor or lack thereof I reminded myself that the ‘food’ was what was at the heart of our venture. But then I would regress; how would anyone know to try our food if there was no publicity and no prospects of getting any? Who would come to our sparse little trailer and try our food?

WE FLOUNDERED

With no real ventilation system and naïve belief that our little trailer air conditioner could compete with a thirty pound deep fryer and 42 inch griddle, we opened. When I look back at those days, I am amazed. No experience in the restaurant business, a strange new food, three year old son, one car, no cell phones, in the dead of the summer, at the VERY BACK of a parking lot. Our trailer was on South Congress but not visible from the street at all. There was no shade and so we sweltered as our trailer sat on top of asphalt in 102 degree weather. For the first month we had no tent or tables so our patrons sat in one of our six chairs under a hot sun to eat their hot food? Wow. Since we had just enough to buy the food and drink to fill the trailer we could not even afford the steps needed to get into the trailer (which is set rather high) for Abdu, (the Paul Bunion of Morocco) this was no problem but for me it was a big problem. My knees will never be the same.

HOW DID WE DO IT?

Ignorance was and still is our friend. We did not know any better.
Brave souls ordered and liked the food, consequently they blogged/twittered/yelped about us.
Friends and family gave of their time, money, skills and worked their social media contacts to the bone to get the word out.
In the end it was not one thing that allowed us to remain. It was a combination of good food, hard work, friend/familial support, social media, and luck. Time passed and it began to cool. We were able to get table and chairs, steps, a tent and even some lights to adorn the trailer. More tools of the trade were purchased, too many to name. Needless to say, our trailer has been a bottomless pit of need.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

It is my personal belief that the Anthony Bordain and his continual rants about the superiority of street food brought about this food revolution we call ‘food trucks’. His sermons on street food were perfectly timed as a burgeoning ‘food as a religion’ culture was being cultivated here in the states. A blogger’s food experience moving him to tears; entire TV networks dedicated to food, celebrity chefs, and supper clubs are all rampant examples of the food religion so prevalent in our culture. Even I am not immune to the romantic, comforting and even sexy scenarios food presents. I sometimes wonder what is more enjoyable for us foodies, the actual food experience or the remembering of it, the sharing it, the writing about it? Regardless, this kind of culture and the people who fuel it, allow us to do business. Without food adventurists and food pontiffs we would have perished within months. Our marketing team was composed of strangers whom had a passion for finding new, different, good, and exciting food. Surprise of all surprises we did not need a marketing budget, a high end outfitted Airstream trailer or slick décor to establish ourselves.

SURPRISING REVELATIONS

You can open a simple, clean and humble trailer and still run with the big money trailers, IF your food is good enough. Turns out our slow rise behooved our inexperience and ineptitude. Same as it ever was……

 

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Moroccan Soul Food August 2011

 

Abderrahim and I share a cultural history. We notice it most when we are in the act of creation, cooking, dancing, or listening to music. It is often a visceral recognition of a smell, gesture, color or movement.  His people occupied Spain for over 750 hundred years and left their souls, hands, hearts, spices, clothing, voices, shapes, and colors with the Spanish.  In turn, the Spanish brought this to the Americas, to the Indians, to the Mexicans.  So many of our cultural norms are shared that at times I feel I have either turned into an Arab or he a Mexican.  Our shared silent understanding gets us through heart wrenching conflict. We are at home in each other’s presence; we are understood, accepted and loved.

This ‘yearning’ to be reminded of the past (a past that we may not have lived in a literal sense) is ancient. Food arouses memories. It can sooth a broken heart, console a stranger in a strange land, bring sad beautiful tears, and create a joyous moment. We have discovered that our greatest pleasure is soothing this yearning through our food. To see the face of a customer smirk with the sheer joy of tasting the familiarity of his culture, his past, his yearning; is truly satisfying. Dreams are fleeting and sweet but our food is real, and in it, we can transcend our menial existence. It makes the miles of dirty dishes, mountains of trash and continual hauling, worth it.

Running this trailer has been the most trying venture my husband and I have dared. We remain for a myriad of reasons. Without question the most compelling reason is the people we feed. Not long ago, our good friend Andy from Patika Coffee (we met Andy as a customer at our trailer) met a couple from Iraq. They asked him if he knew where they might eat some ‘halal’ food. Andy being well traveled knew exactly what they meant and locked up his trailer to drive them himself to The Flying Carpet.  The man introduced himself as Talib, (our son’s name) he was a refugee from Iraq and so was his wife. Greetings were exchanged in Arabic and he told us he had been an accountant and his wife had been a doctor in Iraq.  Soon big plates of kefta, chicken, salad, French fries, harissa, olives, fresh bread and eggplant were set in front of them. As I laid the last plate down on the table I noticed the tears falling from the wife’s cheeks. Through her tears a subtle smile came over her as she ate. I do not know exactly what made them both cry; the familiar flavors, the music, Abderrahim’s Arabic, or the love laden food. I just remember feeling like a part of something great, larger than life and worthy of my time. That day in particular, was full of marital strife, unbearable heat, and back breaking work, and I had questioned our remaining open at least a hundred times. This moment Abderrahim and I had shared with these people gave me great pause. These people had found refuge from their sorrow in our food.

On the precipice of surrender I am continually brought back to the trailer through love. Love of the people we serve, love for my husband and his love for me, love of Moroccan food, and love of the adventure.

We feed those who cannot find themselves in other food, we feed those who are looking for something transcendent and different, we feed the gypsies, the foreigners, the travelers and the food lovers.

If it all ends today I will never regret this journey. I will revel in the memory of it, and smile.

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