Monday, October 05, 2015



Every now and then, Bertie-Pierrine goes to school and this is what she gets up to there! Many thanks to the wonderful and patient Massimiliano Tela of the Scuola Di Addestramento Cinofilo "Il Giardino Di Italo" .

Saturday, October 03, 2015


Today marks the second anniversary of the migration tragedy off Lampedusa of 3rd October 2013. It was not the first or last migrant tragedy or even the one involving the greatest numbers but it was on that day that the world outside Italy began to take notice.

The anniversary has been marked quietly and with dignity on Lampedusa and a wreath was thrown into the sea at the point where the boat went down.  The best memorial to these poor souls and all those who, sadly, followed them would surely be for all countries to treat migrants with humanity.

Here is Charles Aznavour with a song about the hopes, determination, difficulties and achievements of emigrants:

Charles Aznavour - Les Émigrants


Finding myself with time on my hands in Siracusa a few weeks ago, I naturally entered a bookshop but, unusually, nothing cried "Read me!" that day - until I found, almost hidden behind larger volumes in the cookery section, Giuseppino, a memoir by restaurateur, winemaker and MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich.

To be honest - and sorry, Joe - I thought it would just about do to help me wile away the time until my bus was due to leave. However, it turned out to be one of the most interesting books I have ever read.

Dedicated to Joe's grandmother, the book tells the story of his grandparents and parents in Istria and, from 1958, in the United States, to which they had emigrated [Istria having become part of Yugoslavia after the Second World War].  I found this fascinating as I had first read of Joe's mother, Lidia Bastianich, in Bob Spitz's biography of Julia Child, who thought highly of her. Recognising the surname Bastianich, I had looked her up and discovered that she was indeed Joe's mother and a chef and restaurateur herself. In Joe's book we learn just how hard she worked. Lidia Bastianich is now well known in Italy as a judge on Junior MasterChef Italia.

The book begins with the stunning statement from Joe that he used to hate Italy and you have to read on! Like all children, Joe just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else but the cooking smells in his house were different, as were the contents of his lunchbox, his grandmother leaned out of the window and shouted "Giuseppino!" as she saw him coming home and she didn't shave under her armpits. He always knew how much this well-educated, strong and determined woman loved him, though.

Joe rises to become a successful Wall Street bond trader but realises that he envies the art of the barman in his mother's restaurant and finally decides that it is the world of food and wine that is calling him.  

Travelling to Italy to learn everything he could about wine, he felt he was making his grandparents' and mother's journey in reverse and we follow him as he comes to terms with the country and his place within it. He makes thought-provoking observations on the differences between the restaurant and winemaking businesses in the two countries and his love for Italy is sealed when he opens his beloved Orsone restaurant and vineyard.

Joe Bastianich has the same issues with Italy as most expats do - bureaucracy, the fact that all Italians do the same thing at the same time [with repercussions for business] and breakfast - or the lack of it. Having convinced the staff in several Milanese bars to make him toast in the morning, he says his next ambition is to get them to serve him a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich in New York deli style. Good luck with that, Joe!

The MasterChef story is here too, with some intriguing detail from behind the scenes, so anyone who is a fan of the Italian version will enjoy this book.  And, with refreshing honesty, Joe tells us that he actually likes being famous. 

The book also has some witty drawings and a glossary of Joe-style Italian. It's an interesting and relaxing read and I now can't wait for the next MasterChef Italia series to start.  Keep hurling the bad dishes across the studio, Joe!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Last year, I published this recipe for lemon polpette which I had adapted from a magazine.  Well, now I have adapted the adaptation and I thought you might like to know about it!  I had three-quarters of an enormous red pepper to use up, you see, so I decided to add it to the polpette mixture:  I just chopped most of it up very finely in order to do so but left a little to cut into strips to strew among the polpette in the roasting tin. It looks pretty and if they char a bit, it adds to the appeal!

Oh, and I left the garlic out this time - because I didn't have any.

This adaptation worked very well and I'll definitely continue making the recipe this way.

Tip:  If you find that the mixture doesn't quite bind together with these measures [Italian eggs are bigger than UK ones] just add a little lemon juice.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


I enjoyed watching Il Volo at the Arena di Verona on TV earlier this week and especially the moment when they were joined by the catanese singer Lorenzo Fragola, as that meant there were three Sicilians on the stage [Piero Barone and Ignazio Boschetto of Il Volo and Lorenzo]:

Il Volo e Lorenzo Fragola - Best Day of My Life


In the week in which the EU made the best of a botched job while the world's attention has continued to be focused on events in Hungary, Croatia, Germany and Austria, over 4,000 migrants were rescued in the largely forgotten Sicilian Channel in one day [Sunday].  Most of these were initially brought to Sicily and Calabria before being taken to other regions of Italy. The unsung heroes of the Italian Navy and Coast Guard carry out large-scale rescues every single day and night and, whilst facilities for migrants here are far from perfect, reception is organised, medical checks are carried out and people are treated with humanity.

It seems to me that few people outside the "front line" countries in the Mediterranean migration crisis [Greece and Italy] will know that EUNAVFORMED, the joint EU military operation launched in the Mediterranean at the end of June to identify people traffickers' boats and bring their owners to justice, will, from 7th October, begin its second phase. This will allow operatives to destroy such boats in international waters once the migrants travelling on them have been transferred to authorised vessels. [There are, as you might expect, some worries about migrant safety in these circumstances.] Federica Mogherini, former Italian Foreign Minister and now High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has proposed that the operation be renamed Sofia, after the baby recently born to a migrant mother on a German rescue vessel.  Whether this is appropriate for such a potentially dangerous operation I will leave you to decide. [Any phase three of the operation would involve intervening in Libyan waters and on that country's coast and would require UN Security Council authorisation.]

While people are being marked, abused, treated like animals and shunted about like lorry-loads of old fridges, the argument about differentiating between economic migrants and refugees still rages and I would like to ask what is wrong with seeking a better life and where we would all be now if our ancestors had not done so.

It is unsurprising, then. that a lot of words have been spoken about migration during this sad and disturbing  week.  Here are some of those that have impressed me:

"Il ne faut pas oublier tout ce que les immigrés ont apporté à ce pays, les Picasso, Béart, Cioran... C'est une chance extraordinaire pour la France. Il y a peut-être parmi eux de futurs Aznavour, qui sait ?"  "We should not forget what immigrants have brought to this country - Picasso, Béart, Cioran...  It's an enormous opportunity for France. Perhaps there are some future Aznavours among them - who knows?"

- Charles Aznavour, singer

"I think, from space, borders are absurd."

- Yanis Varoufakis, politician

"If we're not able to tackle this issue, if we're not able to find sustainable solutions, you'll see a surge of the extreme right across the European continent".

- Frans Timmermans, Vice- President, European Commission

"I want a world where children can grow up safe from violence, free from poverty and protected from preventable diseases........ The images [of refugee children] have been so powerful over the last few weeks and unfortunately they're images that no one wants to see. No one wants to see children suffering the way they're suffering, I'm not a politician - politics is definitely not my strong point - but what I am is a father. Images like this are definitely something we never want to see."

- David Beckham, footballer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

"Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


My Welsh-Australian second cousin, John, stopped off in Modica on Sunday and it was lovely to see him again after eight years.

Given constraints of time and temperature, I had prepared a little feast of antipasti followed by chicken filled with pistacchi, pepper, thyme and lemon and served with a tomato and red onion salsa and rosemary and garlic potatoes. [Only the potatoes were served hot.] Afterwards there was a semifreddo from Delizie D'Autore and of course, there had to be some Modican biscuits!

Come again soon, John.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Hot from Il Volo's new album, L'amore si muove, a song you might recognise. And this, if I may say so, is how to deal with technology when on stage!

Il Volo - Io che non vivo [senza te]

Friday, September 18, 2015


Gecko, gecko in the hall,
do not come upstairs at all.
I know you’re not a scary pest
but I really couldn’t rest
if above my bed you pop
and on my weary head you drop.
So gecko, gecko on the wall,
stay there, please – goodnight, that’s all.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Look who's been taking a break from the "Department of Wabbit Affairs" in Turin this week! I was very happy to be able to welcome "Commander Wabbit" - Coinneach Shanks of the Follow the Wabbit  photo collage story blog - and his charming wife Camilla, who is "Lovely Lapinette" in the stories, to Modica on Wednesday:

Do take a look at the Wabbit stories if you can - they are written in support of autism awareness.

Follow the Wabbit
Twitter: @followthewabbit

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Or rather, I did NOT espy a final -s on the word which is supposed to tell you what this object is for!

Italians have a strange antipathy to the final -s in English and even when they do add it, they often refuse to pronounce it. This habit is a common symptom of Modican Englishitis but it is also widespread and the above example was espied in a Catania store on Saturday.

I hope purchasers of this rack enjoy the one magazine they put in it!

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Hearing tenor Jonas Kaufman sing You Are My Heart's Delight in The Last Night of the Proms earlier, I was reminded that it was one of my dad's favourite songs and he often used to sing it to my mum. I have posted the song in Italian on this blog before but not this 1968 Gianni Morandi version, which I love:

Gianni Morandi - Tu che m'hai preso il cuor

Friday, September 11, 2015


Marina di Modica

"I'm sad to be going back to university because it means leaving the sea", said a young man of my acquaintance the other day. There's no truer Sicilian sentiment than that and, as I managed to stop myself saying, "It's not forever", I reflected that it's rather nice to be so attached to your birthplace.

I would be the last person to deny that everybody needs a holiday but one of the difficult aspects about living in Italy is that here everyone takes it at the same time and for an extended period.  This results in some shops and businesses closing for at least four weeks in summer and when a shop or business provides an essential service, as a pharmacy does, this is inconvenient and bordering on mad.

However, there are some advantages to this quiet time in the city:  there is less traffic, you don't have to wait long in the places that are open, you are unlikely to receive cold calls and in my apartment block the lift is always available.  In fact, when people start to return, I come home and think, "Oh, what a cheek - someone's using the lift!"

Other signs that life is getting back to normal are:

These are coming to an end

but these are back:

Traditionally made ice cream will soon disappear from the bars but the fresh orange juice is on its way. No self-respecting Sicilian bar owner will serve orange juice in summer - imported oranges are just not deemed good enough and how right they are!  Yesterday I saw the first batches of autumn cotognata [quince paste] in the supermarket and frutti di Martorana in the pasticceria.

The Lidl leaflet has reappeared in the mailbox, the rosticceria has reopened so that the aroma of foccace  again wafts up the street in the evenings and on Wednesday we even had heavy rain [with floods in some areas].

Last but not least, at around this time in September the female population of Sicily collectively and telepathically decides it's cool enough to discard strappy dresses and the strapless bras it is necessary for those of us not related to stick insects to wear under them. With this decision comes true freedom!

The sea will still be there next year.....


Wednesday, September 09, 2015


Today Queen Elizabeth II becomes Britain's longest-reigning monarch and at London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale we've got cake to celebrate!


Bertie-Pierrine, now looking innocent, has taken a particular dislike to the works of Mr Daniel Defoe:

Either it's the rats in the above volume or she's been watching too many James Bond trailers and has decided that, as a spy, Mr Defoe doesn't compare!

Saturday, September 05, 2015


Number 5 in the Italian singles charts this week is this catchy song from the catanese singer Lorenzo Fragola and the video is a reminder of the joys of an Italian summer when you're young.

Lorenzo Fragola - # Fuori c'è il sole


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