Friday, December 19, 2014


Making anything resembling a traditional British Christmas cake for Sicilians is a daunting and somewhat risky task, as they have a strange aversion to dried fruit. However, last night I made Nigella's Chocolate Fruit Cake for the London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale Christmas party this evening, and to my surprise and delight everyone ate it and seemed to enjoy it! [I used dried cranberries in place of the unobtainable currants and raisins and I think it's a good innovation.]

There were other elements to the spread, for which I would like to thank Bar Cicara:

I got a chignon for the occasion - well, a girl has to try at Christmas!

And we all sang along to this:

What with that and my explanation, both in class and in my new booklet, of the absolute necessity of wearing silly paper hats at Christmas dinner, I think I have successfully convinced the Sicilians that the British are mad!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


It's time for another bit of shameless self-promotion! This is my new booklet for London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale. It contains Christmas vocabulary, information about British Christmas and New Year traditions, a puzzle and a Christmas quiz:

Nel libretto troverete: un vocabolario natilizio inglese, informazioni sulle tradizioni natilizie britanniche, un gioco di parole nascoste e un quiz.  Chi s'iscrive avrà il libretto!

Monday, December 15, 2014


Christmas in Modica always really starts, for me, with our multilingual carol service. This year's event took place on Saturday evening and I am happy to be able to say that many communities and languages were represented. Some songs and readings were religious whilst others were not, but all meant something special to their readers or singers at this time of year, which is just as it should be. Let's have a look:

Vive le vent - a French version of Jingle Bells

The British, American and Canadian contingent give their Joy to the World

A German carol is performed

A reading in Arabic

A reading in Bulgarian

A reading in Malagasy

 Yours truly reads Christ Climbed Down by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Gino, our loyal accompanist

 Poetry in Persian is read

 Time for a Spanish carol

There was food from all the countries represented and I made and took along these chocolate crunchy thingamies, a version of "Rocky road", I suppose. The recipe is in the November edition of Good Housekeeping UK and they are very easy to make!

Sicilian sfinci sit alongside Lebanese food and British mince pies - an indication of the international flavour [in every sense] of the evening.

I would like to thank the indefatigable Mr Douglas Ponton for getting us all organised, for conducting and for all his hard work.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014


In September I reported that Sicily was at risk of losing one of its most beloved fictional characters, il commissario Montalbano [Inspector Montalbano]. This was because the company that films the popular television series felt frustrated at what it perceived as a lack of support from the Sicilian region.  Given that "Montalbano tourism" had generated millions of euros for the island over 15 years, the dissatisfaction of the company's executives was understandable.

Happily, the situation now seems to have been resolved, as under an agreement signed last week between the production company and the Mayor of Ragusa the town has committed itself to supporting the productions. In addition, each council in Ragusa Province will have a representative who will liaise with the production company to offer both practical and logistical help. 

But what's this? In the same week, Sicily was warned that it is at risk of losing the UNESCO World Heritage Site status of some of its attractions due to poor maintenance or poor or non-existent infrastructure. Sometimes I want to scream in exasperation at the lack of planning, foresight and even common sense that could allow this to happen. Come on, Sicily! You've saved the inspector - now save his island.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I was really cheered up by these frog sculptures on the façade of Modica's Garibaldi Theatre and I wish I had some on my balcony!

The sculptures, in recyclable plastic, are a Cracking Art Group project and proceeds from their sale will go towards the restoration of the theatre's stage.

Monday, December 08, 2014


Over the past few days, Modica has once again come into its own as the chocolate capital of Sicily with its ChocoModica festival. It's not as big or as international as the Eurochocolate or Chocobarocco festivals used to be, is well organised nonetheless and actually, I found it calmer and more enjoyable. Mind you, I left at 7:00 pm and, as the last shuttle bus to Modica Bassa is scheduled for 1:00  am., I imagine things are livening up down there about now!

There were several exhibitions about chocolate-making and its history to attend, and no end of chocolate objects to gaze at or purchase:

You could decorate your tree with chocolate objects. "What balls!" says the label and yes, the expression does have the same naughty meaning in Italian!

Or maybe you fancy a chocolate silhouette or cameo?

Take your pick from these ideas for presents:

I thought this was cute

but my favourites were the chocolate caffettiere:

There was also chocolate-flavoured pasta. [I've tried this and found it good:  the chocolate taste is not overwhelming.]

I just had to have orange and chilli-pepper chocolate ice cream! Well, wouldn't you?

And finally, nothing to do with chocolate, but I like these Xmas angels that have popped up all over Modica. I could do with an angel right now.

A pleasant festival for everybody.  Well done, Modica!

Saturday, December 06, 2014


Here's a beautiful and touching song from Elisa, with words and music by Luciano Ligabue:

Elisa - A modo tuo

Thursday, December 04, 2014


My friend Ignaziella has been making more beautiful cribs and doing other handiwork for Christmas. I'll let the images speak for themselves:

And here's the crib she made for me!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


Hello, folks.

It's Simi here!

The other day my mummy bought new fleecy jimjams but she's not the only one who likes them!

This is what I get up to when she's out. Hee-hee!

See you soon, fans.

Simi xx

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Welcome back to the music scene, Carmen Consoli.  The singer, who comes from Catania, has released this single ahead of her album of the same title due in 2015.  

Carmen Consoli - L'abitudine di tornare

Friday, November 28, 2014


Jill with our mother
Me with my mother
If anyone had told me a year ago that tonight I would be looking through an album of photos of my birth mother, given to me by a sister who had found me after 64 years, I would not have believed them. Jill brought the album when she visited me in October and there are photos of her, of my lovely new brother-in-law and of their children, too. On the front of the album the words, "To Pat from your family" are inscribed in gold and that means so much to me.

Every night I gaze at my birth mother's face, the first face I ever saw, and I find myself stroking her hair in the photos and saying,

"It's all right. I understand."

Then I pick up a picture of my other mum, the one who brought me up, and, running my fingers over the image of the face I knew so well, I tell her,

"It's all right. You're still my mum."

In the four months between our first contact and our meeting, Jill and I had exchanged many messages and letters and we were at ease with each other. The opportunity to learn more about my birth family was a gift that I had never thought I would have but of course there was sadness too: with one letter Jill enclosed a document showing that my birth mum had tried to find me in 1986 and I was so sorry that we had missed each other.

As I understand it, the adoption law in Britain was changed in 1975, making it possible for birth mothers and adoptees to have contact provided both wanted it and that the adoptee had gone through a period of counselling. For this to be possible, both parties had to register their interest with the General Register Office.  The document I received from Jill is a brief, cold, to-the-point letter to my birth mum, telling her that her interest had been "noted" and that, should I apply to the same office for access to my birth records, the counsellor dealing with me would be informed. Nothing else, no promises and not even a sentence at the end offering to help with any other queries regarding the process. The letter contains hand-written alterations and additions - I'm sure we had correction fluid by 1986! - and is dismissive in tone. Or is it just the heartlessness of officialdom?

In 1986 I was 36 years old, was being a career woman and generally battling with life. I had had an accident the year before which had led me to have three operations and I wasn't particularly well. This makes me wonder if my birth mum sensed it in some way; I believe it is possible. I have explained my reasons for not trying to find her here but I had no need to apply to the General Register Office for my birth records as I knew the story and I had the adoption documents. As I have said previously, we all do what we think is best at a given time.

Some years later Jill rang the General Register Office number that is on the letter and found it to be obsolete. Not even knowing my surname, what could she do? But she didn't give up and her friends knew of her quest. One day, a friend of hers heard that there was a conference in London for people trying to find adopted relatives and he attended on her behalf. That is where he was given the contact details for the lady from the Norfolk County Council Adoption Department and these he passed on to Jill. This was the lady who found me that day in May. I cannot thank Jill's friend and the Norfolk lady enough.

November 1950, the month in which I was adopted, was exceptionally rainy even for the UK and all these years later, at the end of an unusually dry November in my part of Sicily, here I am with photos of my birth mum to cherish and a new family to love. Christmas is approaching and believe me, I know the extent to which the festive season can make you feel like an outcast if you are on your own. So I would like to tell you this: two years ago, in November, an incredibly difficult period began for me and I reached a very low point. If you ever feel as bad as that, please hold on: yes, life can fall apart but it can also become wonderful again just when you don't expect it. Please, please, hold on.....

To be continued.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I'd never made pumpkin pie before and had expected it to be a nerve-wracking task. However, I was determined to have a go this year as I wanted to make tartlet versions for London Town Modica, Centro Linguistico Internazionale.

We can't get canned pumpkin here and sometimes pumpkin takes ages to soften, but this time all went well. Although I'd consulted lots of recipes, in the end I guessed the cooking time for my mini pies and I was really pleased with the way they turned out!



Monday, November 24, 2014


I started making chicken with cotognata [quince paste] some years ago and this autumn, I decided the dish needed an update.  After some thought, I came up with the idea of adding chocolate but not any old chocolate, you understand, for if there is one thing I have learnt since being in Modica it is that if you are going to add chocolate to a savoury dish it will only work if you use chocolate made to the Aztec method [no dairy fats] - Modican chocolate! You can either use pure chocolate or, for the kick I wanted, chilli-pepper-flavoured Modican chocolate.  Here's what I did:

Chicken with cotognata and Modican chocolate

To serve four people generously, you need one skinned and boned chicken breast if you are in Italy, where the two halves of the breast are sold as one or two breasts if you are in the UK, where each half is sold as one breast. Ask the butcher to cut the breast [s] into 8 pieces. You could add a couple of drumsticks, skin off, too, if you like. 

Marinate the chicken in 0.25 litre of white wine, adding some seasoning and a few fresh sage leaves, for about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, chop one square from a bar of chilli-flavoured Modican chocolate as finely as you can and cut one "cake" of quince paste - about 100 gr - into small cubes. [When I was in the UK, you used to be able to buy Spanish quince paste from delicatessens. This is not as thick as cotognata but would do, as it has to melt anyway.] 

When you are ready to cook the chicken, drain it, pat dry with kitchen paper and discard the marinade but keep a few of the sage leaves.  Slice a large white onion and soften this in 4 tablsp olive oil in a large, wide pan but do not brown it. When the onion is soft, add the chicken pieces with any sage leaves still clinging to them and brown them all over.  

Peel, core and slice 3 quinces or 4 pears and when the chicken is brown on all sides, add the fruit slices to the pan with the cotognata and chocolate.  Add 600 ml water, some more seasoning and a sprinkling of ground cloves.

Cover and cook over a low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

You won't be able to taste the chocolate, which is as it should be, but the chilli will give this sweet and sour dish a kick! Serve with garlic-roasted potatoes with rosemary or with some lovely mashed potato to soak up the juices.

Buon appetito!


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