It is a common cliché to have a chat about the weather when you have nothing else to talk about. However, I would like to preface the following weather-related chat by saying that in Tangier, each season brings a weird beast of its own and winter is most definitely something to be talked about.
Winters here are unlike winters that I have experienced anywhere else in the world. Growing up in Minnesota, I have had perfect, sparkling snow-covered holidays, slushy seasons where everything melts too soon even to make a snowman, and experienced that dry, brittle cold that freezes the tips of your damp hair at the bus stop in the morning. I have also visited places with warm, balmy winters, sun and heat making an almost comic contrast to the various figurines of Santa on a sleigh. However, when I moved to Morocco, before the season even began, I started hearing all of these tales of winter in Tangier.
The sun is dangerous- never stand directly in winter sunlight. Never go outside after you shower. If your hair is wet and you don’t dry it before you go out you’re going to get a headache. Cold floors give you stomach cramps, etc.
Basically, these all sounded like old wives tales to me. Until I experienced my first winter here.
You would assume that feeling cold is based on air temperature, but even though I had stood outside in negative-20-degree-weather in northern Minnesota, I had never experienced cold like the chilled, humid winds whipping through the streets of Tangier. The wet kind of cold that exists here seems to seep under your skin and stay for good. Buildings are generally poorly insulated and therefor there is no escaping it- sometimes indoors can feel just as cold or more so than outside, especially if you are sitting in one place, unmoving for too long.
I suddenly found myself sneezing after every shower and hurriedly layering socks on socks in order to shield my feet from the cold tiles in our apartment. I even bought a blow-dryer for the first time in my life to prevent my poor damp hair from making my whole body shiver. I learned to stop laughing at those Tangier winter tales, because cold in one place is not necessarily the same as cold in another.
It is so easy to project everything we knew about the basics of life onto a city where life is completely different. I have said before that Morocco teaches me various lessons in humility, and it truly does, even down to something as basic as a conversation about the weather. Each winter I am reminded of an obvious and yet sometimes forgotten fact once you’ve begun integrating into a new place: the locals will always know more than you. They carry all of the knowledge about the details, the intricacies about the city and how to deal with the fluctuations of weather, seasons, and environment. Listen and heed their advice when it comes to staying warm and healthy.
While there may not be many signs of Christmas around Tangier, the stark change in temperature of the winds off of the sea still bring me that cozy holiday feeling. Within our own apartment, by December 1st the twinkle lights are strung up and I begin baking more cookies and sweets in my spare time (although this is partially just to keep at least one room in the house warm).
These little thumbprints are the first holiday cookies of the season and I think they are going to become a new yearly tradition. I love developing little twists on traditional Moroccan sweets and ghriba have always been a favorite. Ghriba cookies are usually made with a base of nuts or semolina flour and are always nice + chewy on the inside and cracked + sugar-y on the outside. These walnut ghriba are mixed with a bit of almond flour for texture and are naturally completely gluten free. I made them a little more Christmas-cookie-like with a hint of cinnamon and added a chocolate-y thumbprint center just because who doesn’t love chocolate (rhetorical question). They remind me of a Moroccan-ized version of a classic snowball cookie, but with less butter and more nuts. Basically, you need these ghriba on your Christmas cookie plate this year- trust me.
Chocolate + Walnut Thumbprint Ghriba
Adapted from My Moroccan Food's ghriba recipe, gluten-free
Makes 1 dozen medium-small cookies
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl mix together the ground nuts, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and sugar. Using your fingers, add the butter and cream it together with the dry ingredients until sand-like. Crack in the egg and stir together using a spatula or your hands until a thick, sticky dough forms. Roll the dough into small balls in your palms (roughly 1-2 tsbp of dough per cookie) and coat completely in powdered sugar. Place on your cookie sheet and press each cookie down in the center with your thumb, placing a chunk of chocolate or a chocolate chip in the center.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until firm to the touch on top, but still slightly soft. Do not over-bake or they won't be nice and chewy inside! Remove and cool for at least 10 minutes before eating to let them harden a bit. Pour a glass of tea or milk and enjoy!
- 1 1/4 cups (150g) walnuts, ground to a powder in a food processor
- 3/4 cup (100g) almond flour or ground almonds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 7 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp butter, softened
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup (60g) chocolate chunks or chips
- powdered sugar for rolling