Talk to author, food writer and cooking teacher Kitty Morse for a few minutes about Morocco and you’ll be ready to pack your bags and fly away to this exotic North African country. And when you page through her latest book, “Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories,” you’ll also feel her intense love for her native Morocco, a place she says exudes “a sensory overload of colors, odors and sounds, like the cacophony of conversations in Arabic, Berber, Spanish and French…”“Mint Tea and Minarets” is Morse’s 10th book and a departure from her usual works on cooking and cuisine, although some recipes are included. This work is at once a memoir, travelogue, photo album and cookbook. It opens with the author’s return in 1994 to Azemmour, a small, walled town about 45 miles southwest of Casablanca, where she grew up. Her mission: to follow her British father’s wish to distribute his ashes upon the waters of the Oum er-Riba (Mother of Spring River), which flows adjacent to her historic family home, Dar Zitoun (The House of the Olive Tree).
This homecoming also commences her more-than-15-year quest to gain title of the fairy-tale property. Readers will wonder how Morse ever sustained the tenacity, optimism and humor required to breach the multi-layered Moroccan legal system.
During her last visit in October 2011, she visited the registrar of deeds 15 of the 19 days she was in the country.
“I needed that title to prove ownership because my father was a foreigner,” she explained. “One of the hurdles was that we were dealing with several countries and languages — Morocco, England, America and Canada (where my brother lives). We needed papers stamped in all of the places (and) everything had to be in French, Arabic and English. People in Morocco are very welcoming if you don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy.”
Morse lived in Azemmour until age 17 when her parents separated and she came to the United States with her French mother. She earned a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she met husband Owen Morse, now a retired dentist. The Navy brought them to the San Diego area, and in 1979, they bought a house in Vista.
Through the years, Owen developed a similar love for the Moroccan culture, and eventually transformed their one-bedroom, Cape Cod home into what they call their Vista Kasbah. They often entertain in its spacious inner courtyard, decorated with Moroccan-style tiles painstakingly reproduced by Owen to simulate the particular shade of green so popular in his wife’s native country. He also designed the extensive Moroccan-style, wrought-iron railing that follows its way up the stairs and across the balcony overlooking the interior courtyard. The entire transformation was a five-year project.
“Mint Tea and Minarets” required about seven years of Morse’s time. Her poetic and vivid prose transports readers to the Morocco of her past and present. Each chapter weaves the elements of story, history, food, recipes and exquisite photos to create a fabric that delivers an abundant and inclusive portrait of the country and the culture.
“Mint Tea and Minarets” is available on Amazon, at Fahrenheit 451 Books in Carlsbad, and at Solo in Solana Beach. Meet Kitty Morse from noon to 2 p.m. May 4 at Baker and Olive in Encinitas. The event includes olive oil tasting. Call (760) 944-7840 for details. She will also be at Cardiff-by-the-Sea City Library at 6 p.m. May 16. The event includes slide presentation and brief cooking demonstration. Call (760) 753-4027 for details.
Read an excerpt of the book at mintteaandminarets.com.
Corrections: In my March 22 feature on great gadgets for travelers, I failed to mention where readers could buy the Juicebar, a mobile charger for electronic gear. Buy it and other travel solutions at CableOrganizer.com.
I also misidentified the home city of one of the inventors of Babee Covee, a six-in-one, travel baby blanket that stays put. Alma Moussa lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, not in New York.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.