Malibu Way of Life

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Treasures and the tagine

By Jody Stump

When I was just 17, I found myself in a chilly outpost of Boston with a freshman budget and temperate clothes. Room and board were fully covered by the school’s in loco parentis policy, but any extra money from home just about covered a taxi back from a bad date. However, if I really scrimped and saved up laundry quarters, I could manage a trip into that Mecca for the poor-as-church-mice, Filene’s Basement.

I was raised a child of Saks. For me, the skinny aisles of grasping shoppers and piled high tumbles of clothes were a Bluebeard’s den of riches and a terrifying spectacle of humanity gone amok. It was as though Tiffany’s had exploded and Bowery bums rushed in. I saw women in twin-sets and pearls clawing their manicured way through mounds of silk peignoirs while others in ragged tweeds and fingerless gloves pulled at parkas of down. Scary? Yeah, but after months in icy classrooms, I craved warm clothes, especially those with some tactile sense that there was pleasure and beauty in this too cold, cold world. I wanted a fabric hug, feel-good fabrics like cashmere or angora – and Filene’s after-Christmas sale was famous for it.

Too chicken to go the first day or even the next, I waited until sleet stripped one morning of any virtue that would have made a less-fixated person leave the house and ventured into the bowels of retail. Every similarly bent lunatic was already there, but in a corner I spied an inch of my color. There is a certain indescribable green I claim as my own. It’s not grey, nor blue but a little of both in a deeply toned hue that might be pistachio or hazel. There it was! I made my dash for the cuff of a sleeve and grabbed. In a blink, someone shot out from another mound and snagged the other sleeve. Stunned, I held on.

“It’s mine,” she hissed, eyes narrowed with rat-like cunning.

“I saw it first,” I reasoned, still hanging on, but puzzled.

“Mine now,” she triumphed and twisted away, yanking it out of my grasp. Rrrrrrrrip. A horrid, echoing snarl of yarn. Futile tears spilled as my treasure, torn past mending, was tossed back on the heap, a discard in the desperate battle for bargains.

Today, I find my bargains much more pleasantly. Have you been to Cabazon?

A few miles west of Palm Springs lies an outlet mall that labels itself “premier”-an understatement. With stores like Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Prada, it caters to jet-setting misers, but also houses classics like the Gap, Polo, Coach and Nike for the rest of us. I go infrequently – my credit card swoons when I get too close, but quality is high and prices, extraordinary. And the best thing? Few crowds and no grabbers.

Recently, a Le Creuset opened and I rewarded myself with a tagine, a Moroccan roasting pan with a conical top that allows steam to braise the meal. If you’ve never traveled to Morocco, a trip to Dar Maghreb may have given you a taste to remember. Now, you can replicate their fabulous lamb at home, at a fraction of the cost. Just throw a few pillows on the floor, pop a log on the fire and eat out of the tagine with your fingers, Moroccan style.

Moroccan Lamb

Serves 6

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 onion, sliced

1 fennel bulb, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 – 2 lb. lamb fillet, chunked

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

1/ 2 tsp. cayenne or red pepper flakes

1 cup pitted dates, chopped

scant 1 1/ 2 cup water

1. Lightly brown onions, fennel and garlic in the oil – in either the tagine base or a Dutch oven.

2. Add the lamb and brown. Add spices and stir well. Add dates and half the water. Cover. Simmer gently 1 hour – 1 1/2 hours. Add the remaining water as necessary until the lamb is cooked through and the sauce is thick. Adjust seasonings. To be traditional, serve with couscous. Bon appetit!