Sunday, September 30, 2007


I was invited to a "spur of the moment" lunch, which turned out to be a banquet, today. First there were aperitivi with olives, marinated cherry tomatoes and parma-ham-wrapped sticks of cheese at one friend's house, then we all decamped to her relatives' home to partake of:

homemade cannelloni filled with beef ragù, peas and ricotta
veal and pork cooked in tomato sauce, with contorni of peppers dressed in olive oil, peppers in agrodolce [oil and vinegar] and grilled, dressed aubergines
fresh fruit
various cakes
these gel made from grape must

Oh, and I took along the smoked mozzarella bread I made yesterday.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


For this I have adapted Ursula Ferrigno's Stromboli bread recipe. She does suggest that you use half smoked mozzarella but I wanted to add some tomatoes too. I have changed the method a little as I have slightly less pazienza than she. I like this recipe because the dough is "shaped", not rolled out, which is far less messy and there's a real fun bit towards the end!

Half yeast cube, if in Italy, or a sachet of easy-blend yeast
half pint tepid water
1 lb Italian 00 flour or strong white bread flour
a little coarse seasalt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Filling and topping:
7 oz chopped mozzarella
7oz chopped smoked mozzarella
some cherry tomatoes which have been halved and marinated in olive oil and a little sugar - get as many seeds out of these as you can using a teaspoon
1 crushed garlic clove
a few torn basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
some sprigs rosemary
coarse seasalt and black pepper

Mix the flour, salt, olive oil and yeast in a wide, deep bowl and add the water. Mix with the dough hooks of a hand mixer [which is what I do] or chuck it all into a processor. In either case, whizz till you have a soft, pliable dough. Put the dough into a clean bowl, the base of which has been oiled [to stop a crust forming] and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place for about 90 minutes till doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 200 C.

Knead the dough a little, still in the bowl, then turn it out onto a floured board. Pull it into an oblong shape with your hands. Spread the cheeses, tomatoes and garlic onto the dough and scatter the basil leaves over. Roll it up loosely, almost like a Swiss roll, from a narrow end and place it on an oiled baking sheet. [Mine has been well used, as you see.] You need to act quickly here or the dough will break - take a deep breath, pick it up and chuck it on! Use a skewer to make holes all over the top of the dough, right down to the surface of the baking sheet. Sprinkle over 1 tablesp of the olive oil, then the seasalt, black pepper and rosemary. Bake for 1 hour.

Let the bread cool, still on the baking sheet, for no more than 5 minutes , then - oh, I love this part! - pour over the rest of the olive oil and watch as the loaf absorbs it, as if by magic!

Enjoy warm [heavenly] or cold [good].


This balcony, beneath which I pass every time I am down in Modica Bassa, particularly caught my eye this morning, perhaps because the sun was on it. Just looking at it lifted my heart.

Then I bought this prickly pear liqueur in order to get the cute, hand-painted ceramic drinking vessel that came with it. [I’m the lady who brought 912 ornaments with her to Sicily, remember!] All my life I have been fascinated by pretty, little ornaments and kitchen paraphernalia.

That, in turn, reminded me that I hadn’t shown you this: the completed pineapple liqueur. It needs to be left a couple of weeks now before drinking. If you look at the bottle on the right, you will see that the metal ring around the neck is still there: I used to remove these before reusing [sterilised] bottles but last time I tried to cut one off the scissors slipped into my thumb and I ended up in ER! I still have the scar from that one and years ago I nearly minced my little finger in a Bamix. What kitchen accidents have readers had?

Friday, September 28, 2007


This is the side of the fridge, just to show you that I can be organised sometimes: I use the “red chilli” pad to note recipes I want to try and where they are, the “dog clip” for useful information and on the white piece of paper I have my freezer inventory, all in categories [the school marm in me again!] which I regularly update.

Five days to go before I make a quick trip to the UK and here friends are asking, just as they would in Britain, “Have you packed yet?” Packed?! Are they mad? Packing is what I do at about 2 am during the night prior to departure! What I do have ready are my lists, which I have been compiling for over a month [even before I booked the flight!] I set out my clothes list like a school scheme of work, only now my columns are not headed topic / duration / activities / grammar / vocabulary / [or functions / notions if it’s a college scheme] along with the crap “cross – curricular links” [don’t start me on that one!] but something like this: outfit / shoes & bag / underwear / jewellery / make-up. It’s much easier to travel in winter if you’re not one of life’s light travellers as you can stick to one basic colour and avoid the need for lots of different shoes. Then I have another list of who over there gets which presies, and a similar one for the return journey. Usually, once all the clothes and presies are in the case, I stand back and say to myself, “That’s not too bad” but then of course the make-up, which weighs a ton, has to go in last [because it will be needed first] and thus my suitcase gets labelled “heavy” at the airport.

Well, I am trying to contain my excitement because I have the following amazingly adventurous plans: I shall go to Lakeland Plastics and purchase some klippets as I just cannot be doing with the fiddly bag ties that come with Italian freezer bags. I might get another joined up oven mitt as well! I shall browse in a Waterstone’s branch [or several ] and sit down to leaf through the books. To be fair, you can do this here in our small but excellent Libreria Mondadori but there are other bookshops in Modica which are certainly not browseable. I shall also browse through displays of underwear to my heart’s content – sloggies here I come! [Pronounced slodjee, you can buy white, but not black ones here, girls .] And I shall buy some sumac – which should be available in Sicily but is not – and some allspice berries.

But the real reason for my excitement is that at last I am going to meet bloggers Liz and Shirl. What a gossip the three of us will have! Liz and I were saying the other day how much we’d like James to be able to join us – if he could cope!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I went to the doctor this morning to get some repeat prescriptions. I do like the notice you see as you enter the waiting room, asking you politely to munirsi - literally "arm yourself" - with a numbered disc. Of course, everyone ignores the instruction, even if the room is full: they simply ask "Chi è l'ultimo?" [= " Who's the last one?"]. I have a theory that the comune doesn't bother to put up notices or signs when bus routes are changed because they know full well that nobody would look at them, for a similar psychological reason: why take an official-looking disc or read a notice when you can be sociable and ask someone? Thus the Italians will always be a sociable nation whilst the British will always be reserved. Now, if you enter a doctor's waiting room and you are the only one there, you would not expect to have a long wait, would you? Wrong! I could hear that a lady was in the consulting room having a good chat so I got my book out and patiently waited 40 minutes or so. When it was my turn the prescriptions were printed within a few seconds but then my nice doctor started to talk about his summer holidays. "There's no one out there, is there?" he asked. I said that a man and a couple with a baby had just arrived, at which he made the pazienza gesture, said, "Oh, well, ...", set up his laptop and proceeded to give me a 30 minute slide show of his holiday in Greece! This kind of interaction is pleasant, it helps your relationship with your GP, you feel like a person, not a statistic and you leave feeling better! Isn't that what a visit to the doctor should be about?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


... or the air, I should say. It is not easy to find a handbag with a long strap these days so I snapped up this one from the new Carpisa collection this morning. I'd seen it in their window in maroon, then saw in their catalogue that it is available in black as well. I am not an indecisive woman when it comes to clothing or accessory purchases, so today it took me about 30 seconds to buy it: "Have you got that in black and can I check the length of the strap?" "Yes" to both, right, sold. I do like a long-strapped handbag when I'm travelling [quick trip to Britain next week] as I can then wear the bag across my body with the clasp towards me when going through airports and coach stations [safer from pickpockets]. I hate trying to do this inelegantly with a bag with a short strap. [I conceal most of my money elsewhere, though!] There is nothing like the smell of a new, Italian leather bag.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Whenever I visit a new place, there are two things I want to bring back with me: a book about it and a fridge magnet. I have bought fridge magnets in Sicily at one or two of the more famous tourist attractions, such as the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento and the Greek Theatre at Syracuse, but in general Sicilians have not realised what tourists want as souvenirs. Here in Modica the magnets can be found in some shops in Modica Bassa and I have bought “Sicily” , though not “Modica” magnets in the local ironmonger’s up here but that is hardly a store that your average tourist is going to seek out, is it? When I did the Nelson Trail earlier this year, in the town of Bronte I did find some books but, although you could buy all sorts of articles made out of Etna ashes, I could not find one with the words “Bronte” or “Castello di Nelson” on it. Is it so very difficult to carve or engrave the name of the place onto an object?

When my furniture and books arrived from Britain, Gina, who was helping me unpack the boxes labelled “kitchen” had only just got over the amount of cookbooks I had when, poor woman, she came across the magnets! “Qua c’è un altro!” [= “There’s another one here!”] she kept exclaiming for the rest of that day. My other Italian women friends gazed in amazement at my fridge-freezer , proudly displaying its collection of decorations, the first time they visited as they are used to perfect, impersonal kitchens with everything tidied away. “Ma è arrivato così?” [= “Did it arrive like that?” ] asked Irma and I explained that I had personally wrapped each one in bubble –wrap, not entrusting this task to the removal men. [I love bubble wrap! Apart from stuffing it in bras for blog photos I always line my suitcase with it when travelling: thus I have a supply at the ready to protect any glass or china I am going to buy. Gina was actually going to throw some away during the unpacking and we had a tug of war!]

I’m quite fond of my fridge-freezer and the freezing compartment is bigger than that which most Italian women have as they buy few frozen foods and do not, as a rule, freeze portions of dishes that they make. In Britain I used to keep the fridge temperature at 2 C but here it refuses to go lower than 3. And if I make a mistake and leave the fridge door open an instant too long when loading the fridge in summer, up soars the temperature immediately and it takes hours to come down again. If I have to replace the appliance – and I hope I don’t for a good while yet – I am going to get one which does not show the temperature on the outside so that I can’t worry about it!

My search for fridge magnets continues everywhere I go but if I am with my Italian friends they no longer look at me questioningly: they have accepted the fact that I am quite mad!


I am planning a quick trip back to the UK next week [I have some guest bloggers lined up so won't be shutting down here] so last Wednesday, I popped into my Sicilian bank to ask them to obtain a small amount of £ sterling for me. "Oh, we don't know", they said. "We'll have to ask the Banca d'Italia and they may not let us have it. Why don't you just take euros and change them there? It will be cheaper." That's as may be but I couldn't understand why they were making this normal transaction sound as if it was the most difficult thing in the world and I wanted to say, "For goodness sake, you can't arrive in a country without any of its currency!" OK, I know this is possible, but it can prove inconvenient and sometimes I have to run through the airport to get the Cardiff bus if my flight is late - there's no time to stop to get change. I refrained from explaining this to Sicilians who do not travel abroad, however, and, as I've learnt that you get nowhere with Sicilians if you huff and puff, but that you might get part of your way if you hold on to your pazienza, I just smiled sweetly and pleaded, "Please could you try for me anyway?" So we left it at that, with me saying I'd go back tomorrow.

The rain has arrived in Sicily today, bringing with it flying ants the size of aeroplanes, and as Simi and I were battling through sheets of the former and plagues of the latter this morning, passing the bank on our way, out rushed the manager, waving his umbrella excitedly: "Signora, signora! Le sterline sono arrivate!" [= "The sterling has arrived!"] He looked so pleased with himself and I was so touched that he'd braved the rain to come and tell me that I thought, "How could I have doubted my Sicilians?"


The other day Gracchi tagged me with the “your first political moment” meme. I said, in the comments, that it was the final resignation of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. We had a newsagent’s shop in Bristol at the time and I was standing behind the counter [which was much taller than I was] with my Mum. I’d seen Churchill’s photo on the front of a newspaper – I was 5 but I knew who he was, as everybody had a stauette or picture of him in those days – and Mum was explaining to me that “The Queen is sad but she’s pleased that he will be able to have a rest.”

I can also remember the “You’ve never had it so good” speech, the Profumo affair, the days when Harold Wilson seemed to be forever on the TV and was always being photographed in that mac of his ,the simultaneous rise of political satire on British TV [TW3, which seemed so revolutionary at the time] the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Winter of Discontent and the election and resignation of Margaret Thatcher. [I wasn’t a Tory but was prepared to give her a chance, until she started preaching Christian values such as beating the hell out of the Argentinians; when her political demise finally came, I celebrated it.]

And I have my first Italian political moment, too: the great surge of hope I felt at Berlinguer’s Eurocommunism of the late 1970s and early 80s. I really thought that they’d cracked it and that there was going to be new hope for the world. How wrong I was. Only now do I realise that there is going to be no new hope for the world until we stop looking at everything from a “eurocentric” point of view.

Gracchi calls all these memories “Kennedy moments” and I thought I’d tell you about the original one, as it certainly was the first time a political event touched and shocked me deeply: By 1963 we had moved to Soundwell, in the suburbs of Bristol. It was a Friday evening and Mum, Dad, Grandpa and I were sitting around the black and white TV. It was nearly time for my favourite programme, Emergency Ward 10 , when all of a sudden a picture of JFK was shown. My first reaction was that a war had been declared. [I was absolutely terrified of war; I had heard so many horror stories from my parents’ generation, who were, I think, deeply in shock from the experience of WW2 for a good 20 years after its end.] Then a solemn voice announced that JFK had been shot in Dallas. We just looked at each other; we couldn’t believe it. JFK was young, he was a hero [nobody knew about the womanising then] and, more importantly for my friends and me, he was good-looking! The voice on the TV said that more news would be brought to us later, and after a few minutes [there was no “at the scene” reporting then] we were told that the President had died. They were going to bring us Emergency Ward 10 shortly, but then they said that in view of the gravity of the news, solemn music would be played instead. [Now, I knew this was serious news, and I was sorry for Jackie, but I was extremely annoyed that I couldn’t drool over Dr. Chris Anderson in my favourite medsoap!] My great aunt Mabel, “Auntie”, who lived with us, was a very well-read, intelligent and totally self-taught woman and she could have told you everything about any historical subject you cared to discuss. She would have been about 80 at the time and was at one of her church meetings, and Dad said we would have to be very careful how we told her, as she would become very upset. Well, Auntie came in at some time after 8pm, and Dad gently told her she would not believe the news that she was about to hear. I remember she went pale, and when Dad told her what had happened she shrieked and covered her face with her hands, then sat down quickly. Dad got her a sherry. Auntie immediately saw the significance of the event for the world, but what shook her, as it did all of us, was the thought of that young life being just wiped out like that, and when we heard about Jackie screaming “Oh no, no” in the car it broke our hearts. A few days later, when we saw the footage of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald right in front of the police, Dad and Auntie exchanged meaningful glances and even I knew that something was very rotten in the States of America.

At school the following week we had to write, for English homework, about the “Person I most admire”. You can imagine what happened: all the boys wrote about JFK and all the girls, except me, wrote about Jackie. Oh, I wanted to all right but my Dad wouldn’t let me! He said it was too predictable a subject, that I could not possibly make it interesting – for what did we really know about her? – and he forced me to write an essay entitled “Our Family Doctor”. I was mad with him because I wanted to be like everyone else, but I got an “A” and all my friends were berated by our teacher: “All you have said is that you admire President Kennedy because he got shot!” he screamed at the boys. [Well, they were 13. They were hardly capable of writing political analysis, were they?] And: “All you can talk about is her hair and her clothes!” he yelled at the rest of the girls. Looking back, what on earth did he expect? It was a silly title to set during that week.

And now I am nearly 58 years old and I have seen the political contours of the world change as they never have before, following another shocking day in 2001. Yet the day of the Kennedy assassination remains, for me, the day the world grew old.
I don't tag but if anyone else wants to do this meme I'll be happy to read your thoughts in the comments or on your own blog.


In October Ian Appleby will be hosting the second roundup of Blogpower posts which have interested you all during September. If you have enjoyed a post on a blog carrying the Blogpower banner this month, please send the url to Ian at
by 5pm on Sunday 30th September. You do not have to be a member of Blogpower to nominate a post. We are hoping to make these roundups monthly events.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Domenico Modugno

I've just realised that I was 8 years old when the song "Volare" became popular. Everybody was singing the "oh oh oh oh" bit, even in Britain. "Ciao Ciao Bambina" came out a year later but I learnt it in my early teens. I still had no idea that I would study Italian or that Italy would become such an important part of my life. I just have to join in and dance around the room to these!


Now, who knows what they are?

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Over the past few days bloggers have been drawing their readers' attention to some disturbing events regarding blogging in Britain. I first read about it at Ellee's but since then many of my blogging peers, among them Mr Eugenides, Westminster Wisdom, Tom Paine, Grendel, The Wardman Wire and Imagined Community have written clearly, passionately and eloquently about the shutting down of some British blogs because they dared to criticise a rich and influential man. Please note that those are only blogs that I have personally read with regard to the matter: Chicken Yoghurt has the full list of bloggers who are out there fighting. Ministry of Truth has an excellent analysis and explanation of British libel laws.

As I understand the sequence of events, Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, made some allegations about Alisher Usmanov, who wants to buy a blocking stake in Arsenal Football Club, on his site. Mr Usmanov then contacted Murray's internet provider, who shut down the site. Tim Ireland's site, which linked to these accusations, was shut down by his web host as well. Other blogs have also been affected and I understand that some Arsenal supporters who have criticised Mr Usmanov on their sites have also been contacted by his solicitors.

As many of my readers know, I hate sport and I do not care who owns a football club; I can't even imagine why anyone would want to own one! But I do care about freedom of speech and if you enjoy blogs - and I assume that you do as you are reading this one - then I urge you, if you are in the UK, to write to your MP regarding this matter. If you are elsewhere, then do monitor the situation where you are, as if this can happen in Britain it could happen anywhere. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty", said John Philpot Curran in 1790.


I am very flattered to have been given the "Awesome Dude Blogger" award by eurodog. But I can never hear the words "awe" or "awesome" without remembering this story about John Wayne.

I think most bloggers are pretty awesome at the moment, especially those who are defending free speech. An explanatory post follows.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


I am wearing a sundress as I sit here typing, yet the surest sign that autumn has arrived is the abundance of fichi d'India [prickly pears] in the shops. I think this is my favourite Sicilian fruit as it was the first I was offered here, back in 1992. They taste nothing like the ones available from time to time in Britain, as these lose their delicate flavour after travelling, being selected for supermarket sale and undergoing whatever the stores' processes are. You never find pickled prickly pear here, as you do in the USA, though. To Italians a food is either "sweet" or "savoury" and rarely are the two mixed.

In my basket you may behold what €6 bought me this morning. [There are about 4lbs of large potatoes underneath the fruit.]

Friday, September 21, 2007


.. of the trivia of my day to day life in Sicily:

Still feeling melancholy and not really knowing why, I strolled down the street in my white linen dress [for the weather is beautiful now] and red accessories this morning. "Signora, you are pretty like a daisy", said the elderly gentleman who sits outside the greengrocer's in his wheelchair; at least, he does now that they have reopened. I don't know where they have been all summer and I've been quite worried about the elderly gentleman, wondering if perhaps he'd died and I wouldn't have known. Death notices are displayed on a special board outside the church and, as I don't know his name, if one regarding him had been among them, it would have meant nothing to me. I was cheered by the compliment but even more cheered, not to say relieved, to see him again. Later a wink from Raffaele the hairdresser and I was set up for the day.

This afternoon panic set in as I thought I had lost my "Sicily" pendant. This was given to me by two friends here twelve years ago, so that I would "always have Sicily close to my heart". And so I do, only it ended up a bit lower down today! Coming back with Simi from our walk, I suddenly "felt" that I didn't have it on any more, and, placing my hand on my neck, realised I was right. There was no sign of it as we retraced our steps, so a frantic search of jewellery box, dressing table, sides of sofa and chairs ensued. Then I "felt" something again. I looked down and there it was, inside my bra! This is not the first time something like this has happened to me: some years ago I was travelling back to the UK from Sicily and, during the flight, realised I no longer had on a locket which my mother had given me for my twenty-second birthday. Another frantic search took place as soon as I got home but it was not until I was getting ready for bed that I found it; yes, there it was again! I must have travelled all the way from Catania to Cardiff thus. Sometimes there is something to be said for not being skinny! By the way, that's bubble-wrap I've stuffed in there for the photo!

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Seeing this lovely block of salted ricotta on sale in the salumeria this morning, it ocurred to me that I hadn't made pasta alla Norma - the dish named for Bellini's heroine - for a while. I have previously shown you a retaurant version of this dish; now here is mine. It is, more often than not, made with spaghetti, but I like to use penne pasta:

2 aubergines
coarse seasalt
c. half pint olive oil [You may need more as aubergines really soak it up. You can use half sunflower or groundnut oil if you wish, but it will change the taste.]
1 pint good, preferably homemade tomato sauce containing garlic
12 oz spaghetti, penne rigate or fusilli
4 - 6 oz salted ricotta, grated
about a teacupful fresh basil leaves, chopped roughly

Cut the unpeeled aubergines into rounds about half inch thick or into fairly thick sticks. Mary Taylor Simeti says the first way of slicing them is alla palermitana and the second the way of eastern Sicilians. [I chose the first.] Put them into a colander, sprinkle with plenty of salt, put a plate on top, pressing it down, and leave to drain for about an hour and a half. Rinse well, drain and dry the slices on kitchen paper. Heat the oil and fry the slices until softened and golden brown all over. Let them drain on kitchen paper. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water till al dente. Drain, return to the pan and quickly stir in the sauce, basil and about half the grated ricotta. Transfer the mixture into a serving dish and arrange the aubergine slices on top. Sprinkle the rest of the grated ricotta over, plus a few shavings.

These quantities will serve 4 generously.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Looking for a birthday present for a friend this morning, I reflected that I would never have the pazienza to work in an Italian shop. As I've mentioned before, the assistants will gift-wrap for you at no extra charge, and very pretty the packages usually are. I'm hopeless at gift-wrapping: I end up with sellotape stuck to the furniture, the edge of the scissors, my fingers, my clothes, the floor and even Simi [who usually literally sticks her nose into the paper for good measure]; sellotape everywhere, in fact, but on the package.

The trouble with buying presents is that I always see something that I just must have for myself as well and today I couldn't resist these charming shells, made into cruets and using buttons as the sprinklers. As if I need more cruets... The ones on the stand are what I put out when I'm entertaining and you may notice I've got red pepper, not black, in there. This is because many Sicilians believe black pepper to be bad for them. The green ones next to these are just functional, for when I'm cooking and don't want to use coarse seasalt and am using white pepper. The "cows" are to cheer me up and the cruets in the centre were a souvenir from Nevada. I bought the "prickly pear" set on one of my first visits to Sicily. I was going to collect cruets at one time, but I haven't the pazienza for that, either. And I'd need a new dresser to put them in!
Now I'm waiting for James to come over and berate me for buying something I don't need...


I showed a similar picture nearly a year ago, but for newer readers, this is what you get when you order a mixed roast at my favourite bar, the Altro Posto: hamburger, sausage [which has been flattened out and roasted] and chicken thigh, all cooked in olive oil, seasonings and with rosemary.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The number of fish to be found in the seas around Sicily has decreased by about one third since 1980 and some species, such as white cod, have all but disappeared. Sicilian fishermen often have to fish near Egyptian and Cypriot waters to find red shrimp these days. Whereas twenty years ago a boat would remain at sea for a week in order to fill its nets, this now takes a month.

Consequently, there are less fishermen and the number of Sicilian fishing boats has decreased from five thousand to four thousand since 1998. Higher costs have also caused some fishermen to give up.

The main cause of the reduction in the number and species of fish is pollution and the EU is about to step in with more regulations. "Fish less, fish better and look after the sea", say the Sicilians.

Monday, September 17, 2007


This is a Greek dish which I have adapted to the ingredients available here. My mother used to make it for me as comfort food, and I think it is definitely in that category:

Chicken with Tomato Rice

2 large skinned, boned chicken breasts, cut into pieces

1 clove garlic, halved

'strattu [tomato paste, not purée]

coarse seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

4 oz unsalted butter

8 oz long-grain rice

Heat the oven to 160 C.

Rub the chicken pieces all over with the cut sides of the garlic and then with tomato paste. Place them in an oiled roasting dish. Season with the pepper and salt then dot with the butter. Bake for 45 minutes.

Cook the rice till just done in c. 2 pints water, then drain.

Bring a further 1 pint of water to the boil then add it to the chicken with the rice. Make sure the chicken pieces are on top of the rice.

Cover with foil and bake for a further 30 minutes.

Take the dish out of the oven and replace the foil with kitchen paper towels [which will absorb excess moisture - yes, they will!] Let it stand for 15 minutes before serving.

You only need some good bread and a salad to accompany this.

George Evans - [2004]

And here's an English version of the song in the previous post. Robert Goulet sang it with much "oomph" or what the Welsh call "hwyl" but I like this gentler version too.

Amore scusami

- Or "the age-old lament of the married man", as I call this song. I write not from bitter experience, dear reader!


I have solved the mystery of the cleaner's mop! He rang the bell again this morning and asked if I would open the barrier across our courtyard as well as the main door, so that he could get his van in. This I did from the balcony, and saw that there were two men in the van. I can't see the front door from the balcony, though, so could not get a look at what sort of mops they were unloading.

However, Simi barked like crazy when she heard the men on our landing, so I opened our door, making the excuse to the men that if she could see who was there she would stop barking. So I am now able to report that they have ordinary wet mops, just like mine, and the younger of the two men literally races up and down the stairs with one of them. They were a bit more thorough this morning, finishing the cleaning of the entrance hall, five landings and stairs in just under 11 minutes.

I am hourly expecting to be recruited to MI5, along with super-sleuth Simi!

Perry Como - Try to Remember

Feeling melancholy today. This song has nothing to do with Italy but I am posting it as it sums up my September mood. For a sort-of Italian connection, I have chosen this version by Perry Como.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I usually char peppers to make a contorno salad myself, but sometimes you find them ready-roasted in a greengrocer's, as I did, along with these roasted onions, yesterday. The smell indicated that they had been roasted in a wood-burning oven so I bought some. I quite like to eat the peppers as they are, but to make a salad from them you rub the skin off with your fingers, discarding the seeds if there are too many or they bother you. Then cut the peppers into strips - I use a scissors - put them in a dish and dress them with salt and olive oil, plus oregano, basil and a little paprika if you wish. You could also add capers.

You need the elongated peppers if you are charring the skin yourself: I have never had much success trying to do it with bell peppers and I find it much easier to use a ridged griddle pan for the job than the oven. I have never seen an Italian put them in a plastic bag or wrap them in a tea towel to loosen the skin after charring; if you have the right type of peppers and the skin is sufficiently blistered, it will come off easily once they are cool enough to handle.
A little salame, a contorno of dressed peppers, a tomato salad, some of the roasted onion [which tastes surprisingly sweet] and a little good, hard, Sicilian bread make a simple but appetising lunch.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Although I had visited Modica seventeen times before settling here and have been here for over two years , I would not have known of the existence of the Museo Tommaso Campailla had I not chanced upon a newspaper article about it last month. Tucked away in two rooms in what was the Ospedale Santa Maria della Pietà and is now a municipal office building behind the Piazza Matteotti in Modica Bassa, the museum is not signposted, nor is it mentioned in any guide book which I have consulted. To visit, you have to make an appointment and this was not easy: of course no one answered the number given in the newspaper during August and when I did get through this week I was told I would have to ring another number. This, in turn, proved to be a wrong one and eventually I rang the tourist office and yes, it is their staff who have the keys and act as guides for the visit, so I made an appointment for yesterday morning. To my shame, I arrived there in the good old Italian punctuality tradition of 45 minutes late, due to the fact that a one-way system has been introduced in the via Sacro Cuore, causing buses to be rerouted and resulting in chaos [which I am sure to rant about at length in another post]. I apologised and was told there was no problem. Sometimes there is much to be said for those with pazienza.

The museum is unusual because it is devoted to the treatment of syphilis. Tommaso Campailla [1668 - 1740] was first famous as a poet and philosopher. He was admired by the Irish philosopher George Berkeley who came to Modica to meet him. It was not until the death of his father that Campailla was able to indulge his passion for medicine, for at that time, the profession was not considered respectable. I have been unable to ascertain why or how he became interested in the treatment of venereal diseases, but treat them he did, creating wooden botti [barrels] for the patients to sit in and inhale mercury infusions , an idea that appears to have been pioneered in France, where the patient's head would project from the top of the "barrel". Campailla's design was squarer, and the patient sat with his /her whole body in the "cabin". The wood was of a special kind which Campailla ordered from abroad and to this day, no one knows exactly what it was.

First the "cabin" was heated to 70 F by a brazier and then, the brazier removed, the patient would enter, carrying a small oil lamp for light, which he / she would hang on a nail, and a smaller brazier which he / she would place on the ground beneath his / her feet. [Many prostitutes were treated.]There were two holes in the door of the cabin, and through the top one the patient was monitored. Through the second, at the bottom of the door, the mercury infusion was poured onto the small brazier. The dose for a first treatment was half a gram of cinnabar and a pinch of incense [the incense being added to facilitate breathing]. This was doubled at the next treatment. Eventually, the patient would sweat the infusion off, back onto the small brazier. The sessions lasted for ten minutes, on alternate days, and normally a patient would have nine or ten treatments. In more serious cases, two grams of cinnabar would be used and the patient would receive up to thirteen treatments. After a "cabin" session the patient would lie on a bed to continue the "sweating it out" process. By all accounts the treatments worked provided the disease was caught early enough and some patients with rheumatic conditions were also treated.

In the pictures you can see the actual botti and some of the instruments used. The fifth photo shows an instrument for separating blood from plasma and on the right of the seventh one you can see early electrical centrifuges. The last picture shows a chair, from a later era, which was used for gynaecological examinations, for the building continued to be used as a hospital for many years. Campailla's methods were used until the discovery of penicillin.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Can you imagine Italians renouncing their lunch time plate of pasta? That is what 67% of them are reported to have done yesterday, in protest at the rising price of Italy's favourite food. I'm not quite sure how you can verify how many people have, and have not, eaten pasta in the privacy of their own homes but there were certainly demonstrations all over Italy. The price of wheat is said to have increased by 50% in a year and that of bread to have risen by a staggering 750% since 1985.

A simultaneous "coffee strike" was supported by 10% of Italians.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I like these "whirly breads" or girelle, which can be bought, freshly made, at any bakery, salumeria or supermarket. Cut into pieces, one will go a long way. This one is flavoured with cheese, but other fillings such as sausage are possible.

A table without bread is unthinkable in Italy, and it will often be placed simply on the cloth, for you to break off the portions that you want. Or it will be served on a board, in which case, even today, it is usually the head of the household who cuts it.

The shaping of bread into decorative patterns is an ancient tradition and the Sicilians are masters at this. According to Mary Taylor Simeti, until quite recently, women kneading bread at home used to pause between each step to utter special prayers. During the 17th and 18th centuries, though, it was actually forbidden to bake bread at home here; this was because in times of famine governments wanted to ensure fair distribution. Therefore ovens in the home were regarded, until the end of WW2, as luxury items, and families used to take their prepared dough to neighbourhood bakeries, having "carved" their initials into it. I wonder if this explains the fact that so many shapes and varieties of bread are still made here by professional bakers ?

In Sicily, which is so fertile but which has also known so much poverty, bread was and is so venerated that within living memory, people believed that if they let any breadcrumbs fall from the table, they would be condemned forever, in hell, to sweeping them up with their eyelashes.

So when I cut into my "cheese whirly" at lunch time, I remember all this history and I am truly grateful to have been able to obtain it so easily.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Two more serious matters now:


The island of Lampedusa is once again overwhelmed as there has been no let-up in the flow of boats carrying would-be illegal immigrants towards it: two boats were intercepted last night and two this afternoon, the first a dinghy carrying 41 people, the second a dinghy carrying 31, among them 6 women and 4 children. A further 12 clandestini were stopped after they had landed and it is possible that other members of their party had escaped into the countryside. Will this desperation never end?


Some of you may have noticed that I have removed the "Madeleine" button from the sidebar as sadly it seems very unlikely now that this case will have the happy outcome we all hoped for. If the Italian press were slow in carrying the story at the beginning, they are certainly carrying it now and the little girl has become known here as "Maddie". I do not wish to prejudge the case, but what is even more incomprehensible to Italians than it is to the British is the fact that the children could have been left alone in the apartment in the first place. Here eyebrows would be raised even if there had been a babysitter, as generally you just take your children everywhere with you. Fellow blogpower members Benedict White, Guthrum, morningstar and Critical Faculty Dojo have all posted regarding the matter in the past few days and they all have something interesting to say. Meanwhile my thoughts remain with everyone involved in this heartbreaking case.


Italians never, ever come to visit you without bearing gifts so when the doorbell sounded about an hour ago and I buzzed in my friend Marco - "I was passing so I thought I'd come and see how you are" - he presented me with this tray of "breakfast biscuits", even though he refused any refreshments and was here for less than 10 minutes. At one biscuit per day with an espresso, these will keep me going for quite some time! They are very light - almost sponge-like in texture - and have a subtle vanilla flavour. And again, I am stunned [although I've been here over 2 years] by the freshness of Italian food. Usually biscuits are still warm when you buy them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


On Sunday Irma suggested a drive out to the holiday complex of Marsa Siclà near Sampieri, to see something that has been created with tourism in mind, for once. We found a very peaceful and calming atmosphere and whiled away a pleasant couple of hours sitting on the bar terrace, which has wonderful sea views. But what absolutely fascinated me there were the walls constructed from plant containers: I think this is such a pretty idea and I want one on the balcony!

Down on the beach, we stopped at the old, burnt-out factory which is often used as a film set, especially for the Montalbano series on TV. There has been some talk of restoring it or turning it into something functional but I think it's rather romantic as it is.

Finally, the September sea has turned an even deeper blue so here are some views of it for you.


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