Opining today…Agree or disagree…Ugly characters in photos…A year ago, a moonlit night in Tuscany…

This worm was several inches long. It’s a larger version of those we’ve found in our produce when washing it. We found this worm on the bottom of the outdoor garbage bin after trash pickup on Tuesday.  Most likely it was a result of the lettuce and cabbage we dispose of daily, when we make a salad. Most likely, it lingered there on the bottom of the bin thriving on our scraps growing to this size. We didn’t kill it, instead, letting it loose in the tall grass, far from the garden.  Look closely for its antennae. 

Yesterday, while washing lettuce using bottled water poured into a glass pie plate, one leaf at a time, I chuckled when I encountered one bug or worm after another, a few of which were relatively gross-looking as shown in these photos.
Why did I laugh?  It was done so tongue in cheek. We all want bug-free produce without pesticides and yet we cringe over the bugs in our lettuce. 

While in the US, I purchased mostly organic produce. But, I rarely, if ever ran across a bug. Why is that? Simply put, organic farmers use pesticides. If you’ll read this article from the reputable, Scientific American, you’ll see what I mean.

This is a smaller version of the above worm we found at the bottom of the trash bin.  It is exactly as I found it yesterday after removing some of the exterior leaves of the head of lettuce. Notice its antennae also, which is the same or similar worm at a younger stage than as in the above photo. This is “real” organic. 

The number of times I’d purchased organic lettuce from Lakewinds, a Minnesota chain, or Whole Foods, makes me realize how I, like so many was deluding myself in believing we weren’t consuming pesticides of some sort in our nightly salads and plates of vegetables. (80% of the world’s pesticides are used in the US).

Now, as we travel the world wherein many locals no pesticides of any kind are used, bugs galore! They’re everywhere. Isn’t this the way it’s supposed to be?

Are we eating some of these bugs? Most likely the tiny ones that I may miss when cleaning the lettuce or cabbage. I never miss a big worm as shown here. 

This is the glass plate I used yesterday, filled with bottled water to rinse the lettuce leaves as I frequently changed the water.  This worm, another variety, was also on an inside leaf of the lettuce as were many of the smaller, less visible insects in this photo.  It certainly makes sense to carefully wash the produce, unless one likes to eat insects and dirt. 

Then again, there is lots of talk (yikes, in the unreliable media) about our future diet consisting in part of consuming insects as a source of protein. Here is an article from National Geographic on this topic.

So, the question I ask of all of us, vehemently against pesticides of any kind…are we willing to handle the insects that come with “real” organic produce as we’ve experienced as we’ve traveled the world? For us, the answer is yes.

Although I make a disgusted look on my face when I rinse away the grosser looking worms and such, a look I can hardly displace with a smile, I know that eating this way is best for us when all is said and done.

Should we ever live back in the US, we’ll have no option to consume some form of pesticides when even the local farmers are using certain products to some degree. 

For several years, in our old lives, we purchased a weekly vegetable box of “organic” vegetables called a CSA (community supported agriculture) from local farmers, oddly cousins of Tom, neatly placed in a reusable cardboard box to be returned each week to be refilled. 

At the time, I felt warm and fuzzy buying our produce this way, tenderly handling each item with love and care.  Now as I look back, I rarely found a bug and if so, it just flew into the box as I transported it home. 

Since we left the US, we’ve found tons of bugs in our produce in every country in which we purchased from local farms. Although, in some countries, few insects were found in the mass-produced bagged or loose veggies from the grocery stores. 

But, here in Madeira, whether from the grocery store or the produce truck guy, there are tons of bugs. This makes me smile, not while I’m cleaning it of course, but while we’re eating it.

I don’t mean to burst the bubble of those of you in the US and other countries where organic isn’t truly pesticide-free, trying to do your best to buy organic. Doing so, your still way ahead of the game as stated in the above article. 

Our lettuce, ready to break up into bite-sized pieces, after it’s been carefully cleaned. 

How does one, up the ante and get the “real deal”?  Search for local farmers, asking what they use for pesticides, researching the products they use to ensure it is acceptable to you. Purchase their produce and see for yourself. Bugs or no bugs? No bugs? Pesticides are used. 

I’ve yet to find one head of lettuce or cabbage without a definitive sign of insects; holes from their eating the produce or, the insects themselves, small or large. It’s clearly evident.

Forty percent of the US population cares about buying some, if not all, of their produce from organic farms. This matters a lot of us. 

Sure, at the grocery store, here in Madeira we can buy imported bagged lettuce and cabbage. No bugs in those bags, I assure you. We don’t buy those bags or any bagged vegetables for that matter. But, at our local supermarket, Continente, a Portuguese chain, the loose produce has zillions of bugs.

As I shop, I search for tomatoes without holes which is no guarantee that there won’t be a worm hiding inside chomping away at my pre-guacamole. Speaking of which, I haven’t found insects in avocados, due to their tough skin. The little buggers don’t want to work that hard when just a garden row away, lettuce, cabbage, and other loose-leaf and penetrable produce await their invasion.

Cabbage we’ll be using today. The huge outside leaves have been removed and yet insects remain at the easier to reach the stem. Seldom, do we find insects deep into the leaves, due to the density of a head of cabbage.  In any case, a good washing is necessary before we slice the leaves into coleslaw sized bits. Lately, for variety, we’ve been making salads with half cabbage and lettuce, adding diced carrots, making our own dressing. 

So there it is, my disappointment, hopefully not too negative, opining on the reality of true organic produce.  Sadly, the food industry and the media have been deluding us for way too long for the safety of our food. The responsibility lies within each of us to research to discover our own stance and stick with it to the best of our ability. 

When I see my dear Facebook friends sharing articles about GMO (that’s for another day) and pesticide-free farming, I simply ask this question: Look at today’s photos of insects on our lettuce and ask yourself if you’d be willing to deal with these types of insects every day. If you are, you can take your stance, grow your own produce, or find a local farmer who won’t use any pesticides. 

Otherwise, I choose not to complain and love those bugs even those as shown above with those ugly antennae.

Note: Exciting news tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Photo from one year ago today, June 25, 2013:

Moon over the hills of Tuscany a year ago today. For details from that date including a great photo of Tom, please click here.

How does it feel having household help?….More photo outside the Medina…

As we left the restaurant on Monday, we walked the newer area checking out other restaurants in the area, reading their menus posted outside.

It’s raining again today making it necessary to cancel our plans to go out.  Impossible to use an umbrella in the crowded souks to avoid poking a passerby in the eye, we’d get wet as the rain soaks through the open slats in the ceilings of the souks.  Not our idea of a pleasant outing, we’ve decided to say indoors.

After exiting the souks its necessary to walk through the Big Square only adding more of a likelihood of getting soaked.  The last time we went out in the rain, my shoes were soaked from being splashed by fast moving motorbikes and being shoved into puddles by less than courteous tourist crowds.

Hey, this is the nature of living in the Medina which we accept graciously.  Content to stay in today we look forward to another great dinner made by the loving hands and heart of Madame Zahra, assisted by Oumaima and later Adil who serves at dinnertime.  We appreciate their generosity and diligence to our service.

This looked like a quaint French restaurant but, after reviewing their menu, there were few options we’d have chosen.

For us, having “servants” (excuse the word) would never be a preferred way of life.  At times, we’ve heard others say, “If I won the lottery, I’d want people to wait on me.”  Not us. 

Although, most of my working life I did employ a helper to tackle the big weekly cleaning and many live-in nannies when my two sons were young. I was a single mom for nine years, owned a business and had no family in town to help.  Other than those circumstances, I’ve never thought of or desired service staff as we have available to us now.

Over the past almost 23 years that Tom and I have been together, we’ve never minded the day to day cooking, dishes, tidying up after ourselves, laundry and making the bed. 

It’s spring in Morocco now with flowers blooming.

With our dear past cleaning helper in Minnesota, Teresa, coming to clean once a week, we had it all under control. We felt fortunate to have the help but, we always cleaned up before she arrived, removing any clutter, making it easier for her to work.

We do the same here at Dar Aicha.  We leave no clutter for the staff to handle picking up our bath towels, changing the empty roll of the TP, clearing our stuff off of counter tops and placing all of our dirty clothes in the designated laundry bags in each of the two bathrooms we use (I have my own bathroom to avoid awaken Tom in the mornings if I arise earlier).

When we first arrived, it felt awkward to get up from the dinner table and not to clear the dishes.  In a short time, we accepted it as one would when dining in a restaurant, never giving the dishes a thought.

Flowers cascading down a wall.

We never ask nor do we expect the staff to “wait on us” during the day.  If we need something, we get it ourselves.  We make our ice cubes using the trays provided, make our pitchers of iced tea and refill our glasses as needed, never thinking of asking for assistance.

Madame Zahra and Oumaima clean the house seven days a week arriving around 9:00 am when we’re always up and dressed for the day.  The stone floors are all washed from room to room, no less than twice a week.  They clean our bathrooms from top to bottom daily, replacing soaps, TP and tissue as needed.  The entire riad is always clean, dust and dirt free.  It’s hard work which we fully appreciate.

After we’ve eaten dinner we’re sensitive to getting up from the dining table as soon as we’re done with our meal. The three of them stay until the table is cleared and the dishes are washed, often until well after 7:00 pm.  We usually have dinner at 6:30.  We’re well aware that we’d like for them to be able to leave as soon as possible to enjoy what’s left of their evening.

This is a Vietnamese restaurant with the menu written in Arabic and French. 

Once a week we pay Samir for the meals we’ve had during the previous week at a rate of US $24.56, MAD 200 per dinner for the two of us.  Halfway through our time here which will be next Monday, we’ll generously provide tips for all of them and then again prior to leaving.  We’ve found this show of appreciation midway through our stay is important for their morale, especially when our typical stay is considerably longer than other guests.

Are we getting tired of not being able to cook? The only thing I miss is having our usual coleslaw with dinner.  Tom misses the homemade pizza.  I’m sure that within a day of arriving in Madeira we’ll be off to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make both of these and more. 

Do I miss doing laundry?  I haven’t done laundry since last summer when we lived in Tuscany from June 16th to August 31st making it seven months since I’ve done a load of wash and hanging it outdoors. 

This is a laboratory which patients visit for various blood and medical tests.

Always a proud laundress acquiring good skills over the years in the careful handling of stains, white and delicates, I must admit I do kind of miss it.  I used to do laundry daily, taking a weird sense of pleasure in the feel of the warm clothes coming out of the dryer, the folding and putting it away. 

Now, all we do is put away our neatly folded clothing left on a cloth bench upstairs near the bedrooms, everything perfect and folded more neatly than I may have done in the past.

How do we feel to have people around us for over 10 hours a day?  Many days, we’re out for almost half a day.  When we don’t dine in, which is approximately every other day, they do the usual cleaning in the morning leaving by noon with the remainder of the day to spend as they choose. 

Many apartment buildings line the main roads.

As for days such as today, when they’re with us all day, we don’t mind at all.  Adil is in and out a few times each day. After cleaning, Madame and Oumaima spend most of their time in the kitchen preparing the food, occasionally resting in a little room off of the kitchen.  While we’re dining they stay in the kitchen closing off a curtain to the dining room providing us with privacy.

The sweet sound of Madame Zahra’s voice when we hear her talking on the phone or to the others, reminds us of Julia Child’s voice, high pitched and tender.  That sound will be etched in my mind forever, as truly music to my ears.

Tonight, dining in on this day of heavy rain, I just heard the front door close as Madame took off covered from head to toe to purchase the food for tonight’s dinner at the shops she and the locals use, assuring the freshest of products. 

Once we entered this small shopping area where we purchased our nuts and cheese, it reminded us of a Walmart store.  With many open nut stands appealing to tourists in the Big Square, it is tempting to purchase them there.  But after purchasing a small bag of pistachios, at US $18.42, MAD 150, which were unsalted, we prefer to purchase salted nuts for one third of the price at the grocery store. Also, with my recent illness, we are especially careful in not purchasing any food from open stands exposed to the elements, insects and possible unsanitary conditions. 

All of the local produce is organic, although not certified and the meat, grass fed from local farms. 

The chickens are particularly interesting, as is usual in true free range organic chickens…there’s lot less meat on them when they aren’t being fed grains and chemicals.  When I can clean off a leg bone in two bites I smile knowing this is good chicken.

The local farmers can’t afford to use all the chemicals used in US farming.  Recently, we discovered that 80% of the world’s pesticides are used in the US. Oh, I won’t get on this soapbox today but, perhaps another day.

It was surprising to see a familiar brand name store.

We’ve adjusted to their assistance and their presence, feeling grateful to have these kind, caring and special individuals tending to our needs.  It’s truly an experience we’ll always remember, adding to our repertoire of the unique episodes in our continuing journey to see the world.

It’s all good.

I tried to get a photo of all of the Seven Pillars that represent the original builders of the city of Marrakech.  In the fast moving traffic, this was all I could capture. 


Photo from one year ago today, April 2, 2013:

We posted this photo of the beach in front of our home in Belize on the day there was a problem with the city water, leaving us without water for showering, flushing etc.  For the full story from that day, please click here.