Saturday, February 28, 2009


Continuing my St David's Day preparations, this afternoon I made what I call my "cheat's torta": I soak each layer of a bought 3-layer spongecake [not a soft one, obviously] with Maraschino liqueur; I dollop bought crema pasticcera onto all the layers; then I arrange fruit on the top and glaze it with the bought tortagel. By tomorrow I might spread whipped cream around the sides but then again I might not, as the last time I did that it fell off and I can't find the packet of pannafix powder which is supposed to stop this happening.

Now this is my Mandarinetto cake and I am quite proud of it. Once I'd cooked the cake and let it cool a little, I poured a syrup of tarocco orange juice, sugar and Mandarinetto liqueur over it. As I don't think it will absorb any more I'm going to serve the rest of the syrup in a jug, so that people can pour over some more if they want to.

For those of you who don't know of them, "Glamorgan sausages" are not sausages at all but are made with a cheese mixture. They are supposed to be shaped like sausages but as I have to feed a lot of people tomorrow, I decided to make smaller "balls" instead. I used this Sophie Grigson recipe, except I substituted bought pane grattugiato for the fresh breadcrumbs.

Sorry to disappoint, gentlemen, but I couldn't resist the post title!

Friday, February 27, 2009


St David's Day is coming up and I am in the middle of one of my cooking marathons, as I seem to have invited half of Modica to my bash on Sunday.

I am keeping myself going by munching these marvellous Ascolane olives [each morsel consists of 2 olives together, stuffed with a pork, breadcrumb and cheese mixture].

By tradition I would feel honour-bound to serve bara brith on St David's Day but Sicilians won't eat dried fruit. [Well, they will eat my Welshcakes with sultanas in, but that's about all.] So this morning I baked this date loaf. It's from the Amser Te book, which I now have to admit I have kept since 1959! [I used boxed dates as you couldn't get fresh ones in the UK at that time.]

I've been cooking ever since [this morning, I mean, not 1959!] and there are more refined-looking cakes to be made tomorrow, plus Welshcakes which I'll make on Sunday morning. Rosa, who again came along to be the "gofer", exclaimed, as she left this evening, "Ma non fanno di più per un matrimonio!" [= "They don't make any more than this for a wedding!"] I never could do things by halves.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Not a corner of my kitchen, unfortunately, but spotted in the supermarket bar this afternoon [not that you could miss it] - a mock-up of grappa being distilled.


There has been criticism of this "light" version of the song, but I quite like it. It has been the theme song of this year's Sanremo Song Festival. What do you think?

Mina - Nessun dorma

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Chiara the indefatigable produced a wonderful lunch to mark the end of Carnival today. Present were Linda and Gino, Roberta and Roberto and me. Sicilian festive lunches usually finish at about 5pm and this one was no exception.

It's always a joy to anticipate Chiara's antipasti ideas, for she is so creative. Today there were antipasti of rye bread topped with ham, cheese and walnuts

and these of pork in aspic [traditional during this season].

Cannaruzzini pasta in pork and tomato sauce followed [also traditional]:

Then there was a dish of very tender pork with sausages

with chicory and radicchio salad

and aita [chard].

After all this, a tray of sugar, various jams, homemade marmalade plus freshly squeezed lemon juice, mandarin juice and tarocco orange juice arrived.

You guessed it! This heralded the arrival of pancakes. I had mine with the tarocco juice.

Roberto and Roberta had brought these dolci. [ Chiacchiere, the traditional Carnival biscuits, are on the right.]

As I have a penchant for making my life difficult sometimes, I had made some of these pastry masks. I had found the recipe here. I found a child's colouring book outline on the net as a template and I must say I quite enjoyed myself gouging the eyes out. The recipe tells you to cover wooden spoons with baking paper and put the nose part over the handles to get a projection. This seemed to work but several of them broke in the nose part when I took them off the paper. They also started breaking when I tried to thread the ribbons in so I gave that up and just scattered the ribbons around them.

Here are Roberta and Roberto in Carnival masks made by Roberta. Roberto was determined to keep his cap on and I think it looks very good with the mask, don't you?

Meanwhile, yours truly got a Carnival crown.

And now..... who remembers this one?

The Seekers - The Carnival is Over

Monday, February 23, 2009


Rosa, Fulvio and I had decided that we just had to see the flower floats, so yesterday your intrepid Sicilian adventurers set off again for Acireale and the last Sunday of Carnival.

First, we strolled about and savoured the atmosphere: There were the performers,

the balloons,

stalls selling the sweet concoctions that Italians love to partake of on these occasions, even an hour before the biggest lunch of the week,

and of course it isn't an Italian festa without salsciccia:

We even had time to admire the detail on elegant balconies:

There were many more people than two weeks ago, everybody was in party mood and children were dressed up and having a great time throwing carnival streamers and confetti. The etymology of the word confetti is interesting because it means sugar-coated almonds [the type Italians give you before weddings, Christenings and graduations]. Originally, it was the town's aristocracy who got to ride on the Carnival floats and they would throw these sweets to the crowd. I can't help wondering if they caused any injuries among their targets and I really quite fancy that - riding along with my nose in the air and scattering a few cheap morsels in the direction of the plebs. [Dream on, Welshcakes!] Anyway. this practice died out and the gentler activity of throwing paper around replaced it. The Italian for what we know as confetti, by the way, is coriandoli.

That sweet stall got us thinking about food, so we each had a pizzetta for lunch [my, they were good!]

and carnival frittelle for dessert:

Now I'll let you enjoy the flower floats, which had satirical, political themes:

Oh, yes, and here are Rosa and Fulvio

and Rosa and me. This is my new sporty image, readers, but don't worry - I haven't forgotten myself so far as to actually do or watch any sport!

I should like to thank the hard-working people of Acireale for their tolerance, their good organisation and the wonderful entertainment they have provided over this Carnival season.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Professore Antonio Lonardo wrote this poem in memory of his grandfather, Celestino, who lost his elder son, the Professore's uncle, in the First World War. With Professore Lonardo's kind permission, the poem is published here with my translation:


Stranamente aveva saltato,
come per incanto,
destino crudele,
le estate della vita,
giungendo all'inverno
degli alberi stecchiti,
rivolti al cielo
per un brivido di sole.

Sembrava una trincea,
scavata nella neve,
tra le case del paese
gli alberi della strada,
il percorso funebre,
anomalo ricordo
di morte terribilmente avvenuta
nel vallo contro il nemico.

Aveva affrontato
il buio del dolore
precocemente giunto
nell'intreccio di momenti
apparsi gloriosamente felici
e deserticamente tramutati
nell'aridità dei giorni
impregnati di tristezza.

Si era spento, il primogenito,
immaturo eroe,
senza l'inattesa gloria
della patria vittoriosa,
immancabile Parca,
impotente testimone
di fili arcanamente spezzati
nell'enigmatica ragnatela della vita.

Era il figlio,
frutto del primo seme,
fecondato dall'amore
di giovani semplici
attuando un diario,
quasi calendario sincronizzato
con culle, umanamente credute
come giusto regalo di cielo.

Era il cuore ferito,
svuotato dal ritmo costante
di affetti morbosamente contesi,
inalienabile patrimonio
della natura, restìa
ad accettare il vuoto
di pagine ineluttabilmente
bianche senza una firma.

Aveva elaborato
la trama del futuro,
dietro il sipario,
sul canovaccio scritto
sotto gli alberi del cielo;
a platea attenta,
l'eco di un grido
aveva segnato la fine.

Voleva guidare la scena,
accorto regista di sogni
venuti dal nulla,
all'ombra dell'Olimpo,
perfettamente obbediente;
inutile deiforme tentativo
di sfuggire alla rovina,
archetipicamente decisa.

Insanabile cicatrice
del suo cuore,
improvvisamente orfano
di affetti profondi:
prototipi battiti,
rimasti senza eco
nel deserto degli alberi,
scheletriti anche nella memoria.


Strangely he had passed through,
as if by magic,
cruel destiny,
the summers of life,
reaching the winter
of bare trees
pointing to the sky
through a shiver of sunlight.

It was like a trench,
dug in the snow,
among the houses in the village
and the trees in the street,
the funeral journey,
unusual memory
of a death cruelly penetrating
the ditch against the enemy.

He had faced
the darkness of pain
untimely breaking
the threads
of gloriously happy moments
become a desert
in the dryness of days
soaked with sorrow.

He had gone, the firstborn,
the unripe hero ,
without the unsought glory
of the victorious homeland,
unbending Fate,
helpless witness
of mysteriously broken threads
in the enigmatic cobweb of life.

He was the son,
fruit of the first seed,
conceived in the love
of simple young folk
enacting a diary,
a nearly attuned calendar
of cradles, innocently thought
to be just gifts from heaven.

He was the injured heart,
emptied of the constant rhythm
of morbidly disputed love,
inalienable wealth
of Nature, reluctant
to accept the void
of unavoidably blank pages
without a signature.

He had planned
the plot of the future,
behind the curtain,
on the written canvass
under the trees of heaven;
to the listening stalls,
the echo of a shout
had signalled the end.

He wanted to set the scene,
the wise director of dreams
coming from the void,
in the shadow of Olympus,
perfectly obedient;
useless godlike attempt
to escape
pre-determined ruin.

Unhealed scar
on his heart,
suddenly orphaned
of deep love:
prototype heartbeats
left without echo
in the desert of trees,
skeletons even in memory.


The sweetest blood oranges in Sicily are said to be produced in and around the town of Francofonte, [Siracusa Province]. I can confirm that this is so, having purchased this crateful on the Catania road this morning. [5 euros].


Saturday, February 21, 2009


This week I've got Asiago fresco [in front] which is creamier than the aged Asiago. I like all types of Asiago because it is a cheese which goes well with most other flavours and it doesn't crumble whatever you do to it. The second cheese is a piece of smoked treccione, which means "big braid" [as in hair] as the whole cheese is made in that shape. I'm not a lover of smoked cheeses but this one is growing on me!


The recession may not be doing the exchange rate any good but it is certainly helping me in my effort to refurbish my wardrobe. [I have lost so much weight that nothing fits and some things just can't be successfully altered.]

Having picked this up for 21 euros on Thursday,

I went back to the shop today to get a similar black one. ["If you hum and haw, it will be gone" - that's my motto.]

"Regolato, signora, regolato" [="Given away"], said the shopkeeper as I took my leave.

Italian shopkeepers, it must be said, have never been afraid to genuinely slash prices, particularly when it comes to fashion, for no Italian wants last season's designs, however attractive the price. So I've seen 70% reductions here before, but never have I seen sales continue for so long. Carpe diem.


Time for a video, I think. Many of you liked Manuela Villa a couple of weeks ago, so here she is again, singing with the video presence of her father, the great Claudio Villa. There is something about these two singing this that tugs at my heartstrings; maybe it's the father - daughter combination, as it was one of my own father's favourite songs. [I've posted the song before, but not this version.] Enjoy.
Manuela e Claudio Villa - Tu che m'hai preso il cuor

Friday, February 20, 2009


A get-together of what Linda calls the "foreign legion", a group of ex-pats, took place this evening in somewhat palatial surroundings in Modica Bassa. Our hostess, a German lady, had opened up her beautiful home to us and laid on soft drinks, tea, savoury snacks and a sumptuous torta filled with her own fig jam. Everyone brought a sweet dish along and I decided that this was just the opportunity I had been waiting for to try out the semifreddo di marrons glacés from - you guessed it - the Cucchiaio d'Argento. This semifreddo recipe unusually contains no eggs, just whipped-up cream into which you crumble some savoiardi and chopped marrons glacés with a little cocoa and sugar. You then pour the mixture into a loaf tin, wrap it and freeze it "for at least 4 hours" says the book. Personally, when making this type of dish, I never believe any instruction that doesn't tell you it will need overnight freezing. Anyway, it worked very well, turned out of the tin like a dream, was much lighter on the taste buds than you would imagine and disappeared quickly, I am glad to say. Lest you should think I am always a confident cook, here is the mini prototype, for I always make one of these when following a frozen dessert recipe. That way, I can tell whether the thing has set properly and have a taste.

And here is the full-size version:

Had I been at home, I would have sieved a little cocoa over the top but , whilst making a mess in your own kitchen is one thing, doing so in someone else's is quite another so the couple of spare marrons glacés had to suffice.

The nationalities represented at our gathering were: Italian, British, French, Maltese, Greek, Bosnian, German, Spanish, Tunisian, Madagascan, Dutch, Austrian and Japanese. The two men were outnumbered but didn't seem to mind. A good time was had by all and we agreed to meet up more often. As you see, we were all feeling happy and relaxed, not to mention well-fed! I am in the second picture and - what a calamity - forgot to take my glasses off:

"I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible." - Gandhi

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Jams has a not-wife. Well, I have a not-the-computer-desk [sad, sad....]. I won it, actually, years ago in a Habitat slogan competition. Rosa has been hinting that we should tidy it up for ages and this week I gave in because I am of an age to perceive it when someone is beginning to despair of me! The not-the-computer-desk had got piled up with paper - I don't know how this happens; it just does - and these piles, like my book collection, grow in the night when they think Simi and I aren't looking. Now the challenge is: how long can I keep it like this?


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