Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Hi, folks. No time to post properly today as I'm having one of my cooking marathons. Now, who knows why? .... I think Liz might be able to guess... Back tomorrow to answer all your comments and with some food pics., hopefully. Buona giornata a tutti.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


As we all await the Prodi vote of confidence tomorrow, it is another news story which has caught my eye today:

In Love and War...
In 1999 a Salerno man read his wife's diary and realised that she was having an affair with her brother-in-law. He then planned and carried out a prolonged campaign to "shame" her, threatening her and sending letters to her teaching colleagues. In 2005, he received an eight-month sentence for defamation, threatening behaviour and abuse and was ordered to pay damages to his wife, the judges having decided that too much time had elapsed since the man discovered the affair for a plea of "acting in extreme anger" to be accepted. Later, on appeal, the sentence was reduced to one for defamation only. Today, however, the Cassazione, Italy's Supreme Court of Appeal, has declared that no time limit can be put on a betrayed spouse's anger and hurt; if your wife cheats on you, you have the right to "shame" her. La Repubblica assures us that the decision would have been the same had the wronged partner been a woman!
La Regina Mirren
Martin Scorsese's Oscar has headlined here but there has also been plenty of coverage of La Regina Mirren, as Dame Helen is being called. Yesterday I used part of her acceptance speech in a lesson: analysed grammatically, there is a lot that a teacher can use in that sentence thanking Her Majesty: use of present perfect + for, negative subjunctive in a conditional phrase, and then the idiomatic use of the verb "give" to mean "toast". The students liked the quip about the royal hairstyle and the fact that it was OK to make it!
La Beckett
The story of the British Foreign Secretary having been taken in by Rory Bremner phoning her and pretending to be Gordon Brown got a three-quarter-page spread in Corriere yesterday: the story was reported with amusement and some incredulity that the impressionist was that good and that the Scottish accent is so pronounced!

Monday, February 26, 2007


I baked these pork chops last night with apples and in a honey and mustard sauce [Dijon-style mustard being available here] then took the photo just to show you how the chops are cut differently to those found in Britain. You do sometimes see a shape similar to the British cut, but the chops are smaller and thinner.

Lamb, as I've mentioned, is more difficult to find but will be coming into the shops more frequently in the run-up to Easter. The best way of obtaining lamb chops is to go to the frozen food centre and get them to cut up a whole shoulder. I then freeze the chops I don't immediately need.

Carrots are the bane of my life [along with water!] as they are usually sold in large packs like this. I've just turned this lot into soup, which brings me to a discussion I had with Irma over Christmas, about Italian cuisine not having a great repertoire of soups. Apart from minestrone and the wonderful Tuscan ribollita, they are rarely served and this must be because pasta is king. Spezzatino, which we would call casserole or stew, is a different matter and the cubes of meat used in its preparation are much larger than in Britain.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


At last I have acquired a telecomando - remote control thingummy - with which to open the barrier across our parking space. For those of you with RCL cars, I don't suppose this would be anything to get excited about, but it is a source of great joy to me that, next time the water lorry arrives while I'm in the shower [as it is wont to do] I won't have to rush downstairs, unmade-up and in whatever clothes I have managed to pull on, to open up manually.

I have been gleefully playing with this minuscule mechanical miracle all morning, opening and closing the sbarra from the balconies - because now I can! - and got some strange, though indulgent, looks from neighbours when I went out shopping later!

Incidentally, the arrival of the water lorry anywhere in the street still brings everyone out on their balconies, even at siesta time. I can understand that they want to know where it is going, as, indeed, I do myself, but they all stand there and watch the entire 15-minute performance as the water is piped into the selected cistern. I can only surmise that it makes a welcome break from Italian daytime TV!

Friday, February 23, 2007


Now, I wouldn't be able to eat a rum baba in Britain, as I've always found them too big, sickly sweet and overly sticky. But this pretty, delicate rum savoia on offer at the Altro Posto today was a different matter. The rum baba was the only dessert brought to Naples by the Bourbon chefs and so is really associated with Neapolitan, rather than Sicilian, pastry cooking.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


"So Italy reverts to type", a BBC World presenter commented disparagingly last night after announcing that the Prodi government had just resigned. Yes, it does seem that way sometimes to people outside Italy and I meet many Italians who are concerned about the image of their country abroad generated by the constant changes of government.
But reserve your judgement for a moment, as if you look at the parliamentary system it should be perfect: both Chambers in the Italian Parliament have equal rights , the Senate or upper Chamber is elected [apart from former Presidents and up to five members appointed by the Prime Minister sitting as life senators] and a proportional representation system which the British Lib-Dems might envy, on paper, operates. So why doesn't it work? Largely because the proportional system leads to the election of many smaller parties, which in itself gives rise to a need for coalitions. The Prodi Unione coalition included eleven parties when I last counted and these were as far apart, ideologically, as the Greens and the unreformed Communists. So it was always going to be a difficult group to hold together and few people here expected the government to last a year!
Another factor is that Italians are anything but apathetic politically [ with voter turnout at 83.6% in the 2006 general election]. If there is a burning issue, few here would profess themselves as an "I don't know" on it. Rather, they are out in the piazze demonstrating and making their feelings felt very quickly, so last week's protests at the planned expansion of the US base at Vicenza have had an impact. You see this political commitment in schools, too; perhaps because some of Italy's freedoms have been won relatively recently, people are not complacent about them, and young people are willing to make their voices heard, participate in a school strike or demonstrate in a way that would be unimaginable in the UK. All this, in my opinion, is healthy.
This is a country that elected Berlusconi in full knowledge, or almost full knowledge, of the former Premier's faults; yet someone like Blair would not last one, let alone ten years here. There would have been so many hard-hitting demonstrations against him by now, and certainly a vote of no confidence.
No one could pretend that these constant changes of government are good for the country or a recipe for stability, yet they do show democracy in action. And for all its faults, let us not forget that this country of very diverse regions, unified only since 1861 and ununited by a common language until the advent of television in most homes during the 1960s [ prior to this, the majority spoke dialect] has remained a democracy since the end of World War 11. That, I believe, is a proud achievement.
As I've said before, here it is accepted that politicians are fallible and governments are expected to fall - "pazienza", as they are saying in the cafés and out on the streets right now.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


This is our fresh Ragusan cheese. It has a firm texture but is softer than a Cheddar. The flavour is mild with just a hint of sweetness. The matured version of this cheese is quite different and I'll show you that another day.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Just a few bits and bobs to tell you about this evening:

First, a post of Ellee's yesterday made me think about the location of supermarkets here: many are on the outskirts of the town and have large, flat, free carparks as in Britain, but my local one is underneath a block of flats and down the slope pictured. It is well signposted but you'd need to know that Conad is a chain of supermarkets to realise that that's what it is. You could miss quite a few businesses and offices here if you didn't keep looking up [and down] actually: Raffaele's is up the stairs in the second photo and you wouldn't know there was a hairdresser's there unless you happened to glance up and see the poster. [I once asked him why he calls his salon "yellow", by the way: apparently there was another hairdresser called Raffaele here years ago and when "my" Raffaele opened, he had his salon decorated in yellow and so he used that as part of the name to distinguish himself from his namesake. I think he also rather likes the word!]

Today is a sort of holiday for Carnevale: some businesses have been closed all day whilst others have not reopened this evening. There isn't much of a Carnival tradition in Modica: it seems, here, to be mainly a festival for the children. There will be some processions in Modica Bassa tonight but I'm not going down there as I don't feel like having water and that gooey stuff thrown at me, though I don't begrudge others their fun. Having just been out with Simi, I saw that we have a beautiful new moon, so in a moment I am going to fling the shutters open and gaze at it awhile , for, dear readers, if you have not seen a Sicilian moon, you have not seen a moon....
A less welcome visitor than the moon was a locust which decided to fly into my bathroom last night. I'm afraid I was much too intent on getting rid of the thing to photograph it! Perhaps I won't open the shutters right now, after all...
Now to a complete change of subject: there is to be a health initiative in Sicily so the already reasonable prices for fruit and vegetables are to be lowered. Portion sizes in bars are also to be reduced but no one seems to know yet how and to what. I'll let you know when I see evidence of this.
Going back to the supermarket, there were three power cuts in there while I was at the checkout yesterday [not, I think, their fault]. Even the door is electronically controlled now, so no one could get in or out during this time. As you can imagine, there was much shrugging of shoulders and uttering of "pazienza"!
And finally, for this post, "they made me do it" - blogger, that is; late last night they made me change to beta . This is my first beta post and I'm not quite sure what I'm doing - pazienza.

Monday, February 19, 2007


This may be of particular interest to Liz, as it is the chicken with olives and capers dish for which I gave the recipe in the comments section before Christmas, though James won't like it because of the olives. Anyway, I used to make it in the UK and I make it here, for, served with a green salad and a potato baked with oil and herbs, it is my idea of comfort food. I get withdrawal symptoms if I go for more than a couple of weeks without making it and last night the weather turned cold, so I decided it was time... It is also a dish which will stand a fair bit of abuse, such as leaving it in too long, and you can use streaky bacon or even prosciutto instead of the pancetta if you prefer. It freezes well, too. The first photo shows the dish ready to go into the oven and the second one the finished dish. Here is the recipe again:
2 - 3 skinless chicken breats, cut into bite-sized pieces [In Britain I used to use part-boned breasts with the skin on but have adapted to what is available here.]
2 tablesp.olive oil
small packet of pancetta cubetti
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
14 oz can chopped tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, as I have used here
a good dollop of 'strattu [tomato paste, not purée - a small can of the Greek kind sold in British delis is about the right amount.]
a few chopped mushrooms or a small packet of button mushrooms
a handful of stoned black olives, sliced if you prefer [if these are canned in brine or oil, rinse and drain them; since I've been here I don't bother stoning them.]
a handful of capers, salted ones preferably, rinsed and drained
5 fl. oz red wine [maybe just a tad more]
seasalt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Put the chicken pieces into a deep casserole dish with a lid.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the pancetta. Add the onion and garlic and fry till transparent. Add the tomatoes and 'strattu and stir it all around a bit. Then add the olives, capers and mushrooms. Give it all a good stir and add the wine and seasoning. Mix well and when it bubbles chuck the sauce over the chicken.
Put the lid on the casserole dish and put it in the oven for about 1 hour.
Buon appetito.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


"When it's night time in Italy
it's Wednesday over here
All the onions in Sicily
make people cry in California"
- I still have my Everly Brothers vinyl with that song on it and, after all these years, it still cheers me up!
No onions to show you today, but a table of fennel and young artichokes at our pleasant new greengrocer's.


This is the area of Modica Bassa where Simi and I lived for the first five weeks after we arrived here in 2005. I was down there this morning and as it was a lovely day, took these pictures, which I thought you'd like to see.
Click here to see inside the tiny house [kindly lent to us by dear friends] where we were.


Hi, folks, it's Simi here! I told you I'm just like the Queen as I have two birthdays, didn't I? Well, today's my "official" one, the eighth anniversary of the day my mummy got me. Such a lucky mummy!

We've had some adventures since then, especially flying all the way to Sicily together and me having my own special passport! Then we lived in a very small kennel for a few weeks till we moved into the present one. I don't mind that it doesn't have a garden as I get more walks now and sometimes I even get to stroll along the shores of the Med, which my mummy tells me is a very smart thing for a dog to do, as if I don't know that!

Last week I dropped my "ropey toy" in the bath and it got a bit soggy so for my presie today I got this new one. [Hee-hee! Wait till she gets in the shower tonight!]

I'll be back to check on you all again soon, but right now I need to check on my very own human.

Buona serata a tutti,
Simi X

Friday, February 16, 2007


Here are chiacchiere, the wafer-thin biscuits made during this Carnevale period. The verb chiacchierare means "to gossip" and the biscuits are said to derive their name because they are made in the shape of old women's tongues!

Thursday, February 15, 2007


No football will be played at the Catania stadium until 30th June and the club will have to play its remaining home fixtures at neutral grounds with no spectators present. In addition, the club will have to pay a €50,000 fine. Its chief executive feels that this punishment is excessive and points out that AS Roma has not been punished for the disrespectful behaviour displayed by some spectators during what should, before a game against Parma on Sunday, have been a minute's silence for ispettore Raciti, the policeman killed in the Catania violence of February 2nd. There is also talk of building a new stadium in Catania and naming it for ispettore Raciti.

I'd be interested to know what readers think: are the ban and fine excessive? Would naming a new stadium after the Inspector be a good idea and a mark of respect or simply an empty gesture?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


For dessert, we had what I think is one of the most refreshing dishes you can find here and that is gel al limone [for which I posted a recipe here, if you are new to this blog]. Then to Linda's for a lovely birthday tea. So, having been lucky enough to have celebrated the day bi-culturally, I am spending the evening pleasantly with my true Valentine - my precious, faithful, beautiful Simi dog.


Then to lunch at Il Cortiletto in Modica Bassa with Irma and Gina. It is quite something for Sicilian women to come out to lunch without their husbands so I did appreciate it. As you see, Irma remembered to bring along something very important! Cincin a tutti, said I! We each had a plate of these magnificent antipasti to ourselves, then decided to have the beautifully cooked coniglio alla Modicana [rabbit ]. It was all superb.


I am 57 years old today and, having pushed the significance of those two digits out of my mind, I have been having a very nice day indeed.

1. "Close your eyes", said Raffaele the hairdresser after my complimentary comb-out this morning and this lovely bracelet was slipped onto my wrist.
2. These were in a sale and I just had to!
3. It was the heel detail that did it!
More about my day on the next post.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Some items of news from Italy that may be of interest, though not a very merry round-up this evening, I'm afraid!

The Catania stadium is to remain closed for another month whilst police investigations into the football violence of February 2nd continue. A seventeen-year-old has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of the policeman and the boy's family are in denial. How on earth, I wonder, would any of us react if a child of ours had done, or was suspected of having done, something like that? It must be such a shock and you would be asking yourself all sorts of questions about where you might have gone wrong, I imagine. Meanwhile opinion here is divided between those who believe that the football season should just be declared over now and those who think that the hooligans will have won if it does not continue. It is a depressing time, indeed, for genuine fans, with the majority of Italy's stadiums being closed to them. "Football isn't football without the spectators" a club manager said on TV today and of course, there are financial implications for the clubs. As ever in these cases, the majority are being penalised for the stupidity and mindless violence of the few.

My heart goes out to Kelly Taylor, whose plight I heard about on Sky last night. I think this is a terribly difficult issue and none of us knows how we would feel if we were in this position. It occurred to me that many readers will not have heard about the Welby case, which is still being debated all over Italy. For me perhaps the saddest aspect of this is the fact that, after so much suffering and begging, agitating and campaigning for the right to die with dignity, the piece of music that Welby requested at the end was not available for him. I'll leave you to read the article and decide for yourselves.

15 Italian nationals were arrested in northern Italy in the early hours of Tuesday on suspicion of planning terrorist activities here. They are believed to belong to a branch of the infamous "Red Brigades". "Oh, no, not this all over again", I hear myself crying inwardly, for I remember the atrocities and tragedies of the eighties only too well. As if Italy, like all western democracies, does not already have enough to worry about...

The government has, just before the deadline for doing so, presented a bill which would allow cohabiting couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, certain rights under the law: these include inheritance and pension rights and employment relations rights. There has been a lot of linguistic work on this, too, the term Dico - diritti e doveri dei conviventi [rights and responsibilities of cohabiting couples] - having been brought into play to replace the originally French and politically charged term of Pacs [patto civile di solidarietà ] . The right-wing opposition of course opposes the bill and the Vatican is preparing a statement declaring that such a law would undermine the family. It is said that if the law is passed the couple would have to go and register with their local comune - I think there would be a charge for this - and then all should be well. But, having dealt with Italian bureaucracy, I very much doubt it would be as simple as that! Good luck to them all, anyway!


Roast veal in a deliciously delicate sauce as served at the Altro Posto at lunch time today.


We have a Maestrale [Mistral] wind of 23 mph today and I got smacked in the face several times by almonds which had blown off their trees on my way to Raffaele's this morning. [Thus the latter was instructed to "glue", rather than lacquer, my hair!] Debris is blowing about everywhere, the shutters are rattling like mad and it's such a noisy wind in itself that I can hardly hear my TV or radio. Yet it has been sunny: observe the clear, blue sky above the hospital building and then take a look at the flags!

When I was out with Simi just now I noticed that a few power cables are down so if I normally visit your blog and I don't manage it this evening it could be that we are having a power cut.

Monday, February 12, 2007


There are some cookery writers who never let you down and Ursula Ferrigno is one such. I have long wanted to make this pumpkin bread from the "Bread" book she wrote with Eric Treuille and this afternoon I got around to it. [Today seems to be my day for "getting around to things".]


In one way, this post has nothing to do with my life here in Sicily. In another, it has everything to do with it, for it is in Sicily that I began blogging, learnt that it can be a lifeline to an ex-pat and joined Blogpower, which has been so good for me and my blog; through this I have “met” so many people who have a daily impact on my life .

Blogpower is the brainchild of James and he explains its purpose here so much better than I can. We are, basically, a group of bloggers who wish to support each other and ensure that the blogosphere will always have space for those of us who do not have “monolithic” blogs. We differ widely in our political views, subject matter and approach to blogging but hey! - Isn’t that what makes blogging so great?

So here, better late then never, are my 10 testimonials of fellow-Blogpower members.

To begin with two fellow-Celts:

Finding Life Hard? Liz from Swansea brightens my life. She blogs about her family - in which I include her wonderful dog, Harvey, as she would want me to - her reading, her prison visiting and her surroundings. For me, a visit to Liz is like a visit “home” every day. Liz posts lovely photos, too, and, when she feels it is appropriate, reflects upon religion and politics for us. I feel she has little confidence regarding the latter but her views are always refreshing and endowed with a common sense which many of our leaders could do worse than to emulate. Why aren’t you in politics, Liz?

Adelaide Green Porride Café is another blog to which I turn for a dose of daily cheer. “Transplanted Scot” Colin Campbell treats us to his insight on life in Oz, and includes items of news from there which we would not find anywhere else. A gentle humour pervades his writing and he has even made cricket interesting to a non-sports fan like me! Colin also peppers his blog with some fun quizzes and polls.

There was a time, in Sicily, when I missed the UK Sunday and other newspaper supplements. Now, however, even though I can access these online, I seldom bother; I find much more information and entertainment in reading the following serendipitous blogs:

Nourishing Obscurity: Everything is here, from international politics to seemingly trivial, but always entertaining, snippets of news from around the world, together with James’s always original take on it all. Recently he posted a brave and thought-provoking series of articles on rape and an interesting debate among his commenters ensued. He has also posted a series on House of Lords reform and, whether you agree with James or not, his posts are so readable that you will almost always find yourself reassessing your own views. In addition, should you wish to test your general knowledge or find a Shakespearian insult, James is your man! James is also the inspiration behind Blogpower and I don’t know how he finds time to visit all our blogs and keep us in order!

A Corporate Presenter: Here Jeremy Jacobs delivers his entertaining and insightful views on everything from politics to incompetent drivers with razor-sharp wit. But there is a serious side: Jeremy is a “doer” and this week he embarks on a Masaai Trek to raise money for the Breast Cancer Campaign. Jeremy lost his sister to the disease and has written movingly about this. I am full of admiration for someone who gets up and does something for a cause close to his heart and I’m sure we all wish Jeremy luck.

The tin drummer can also make cricket interesting to me, no mean feat as I’ve said. On this blog you will find clear political analysis, beautiful descriptive writing and some self-deprecating humour as well. I love his recent posts on why he has been driven to swear online! All posts are delivered in an excellent and riveting prose style. The tin drummer has a great flair for post titles, too!

Shades of grey[s] – ian, karen and david: Ian Grey regales us with tales of his moments with celebrities, his family and pets as well as posting his thoughts on concerts and other events he has attended. From Ian I learn of new bands [well, new to me, anyway] and get ideas for new places to visit next time I’m in the UK. Ian is involved in a scheme for bringing the arts to primary school children in a way that is accessible to them and he writes enthusiastically about this.

Now to mostly political blogs:

A Young Conservative: 17-year-old Will B. has a witty and effervescent prose style which acts like a tonic on me on a Monday [or any other] morning. He blogs about UK and international politics in a way that could reawaken your interest even if you had given up on politicians and he is forthright about his views. Watch out, Dave Cameron, I say!

The Cityunslicker: Just as Colin Campbell and the tin drummer can get me to read whole posts about cricket, so the cityunslicker can hold my attention with regard to city and financial news; in fact, he makes me feel that I understand it! He writes in a strong, punchy style and I would rather read this blog than any business section -and you will find reviews of the British papers’ business sections on his blog. Here is another blogger who makes no bones about his views and who delivers them in a direct and witty way. He gives me a daily take on UK news which I have not found anywhere else. Cityunslicker manages to see behind the headlines and analyse what developments in politics and high finance mean for us all.

Westminster Wisdom: Gracchi’s political knowledge and powers of analysis are second to none in the blogosphere or msm and the historical perspective which he brings to his posts makes this blog my first port of call when I really want to understand an issue. He “talks you through” an issue or event step by step and so you never feel lost or overwhelmed by the amount of information he is offering you. But this is not wholly a political blog: for Gracchi points me to films and books that I might otherwise have missed and he researches his reviews for these as carefully as he does his political posts. Again, I feel as if I have been sitting down reading a quality Sunday review section after perusing these posts.

And finally….

Ellee Seymour: So much has, justly, been written about Ellee’s blog that I’m not sure what I can add. Yet I cannot finish this post without mentioning it as it is a daily “must” for me. Part of the charm of this blog is that you never know what the post will be about, for Ellee covers everything: politics, local issues, celebrity news, international events, the development of the blogosphere itself – it is all here. Ellee researches her posts thoroughly, too, and always provides good links so that her readers can learn more if they wish. Her writing style makes me feel I am discussing the issue with a friend. Ellee has many loyal commenters to whom she courteously responds and some lively debates take place in her comments section! I wish I had Ellee’s PR experience and genius for thinking up post titles, too: a lot of these are in question form so that you feel immediately drawn into the debate. You’ve just commented on my “gin ai mirtilli” post, Ellee, so here’s to happy blogging for a long time to come!

Saturday, February 10, 2007


"He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night."
- Andrew Marvell, "Bermudas".
Walking back from the butcher's in dull weather this morning, and pondering, again, upon the fact that meat is slightly more expensive in Italy, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks at the sight of the delightful array of goods displayed outside our new greengrocer's [ where, I am happy to tell you, the awning is now in place]: piles of purple broccoli and heaps of young artichokes just teemed from a trestle table and a lorry-load of arance alla vaniglia or arance dolci [sweet oranges] had just arrived.
I had never, ever, tasted anything like a Sicilian sweet orange until I came here: they really do have the perfume and taste of vanilla and when they are fresh off the tree, as these were, the scent is heavenly. I can't describe it; you will just have to come and taste them for yourselves! Moreover, the texture of the skin is nothing like that of the oranges you find in Britain, where it is compared to cellulite; it is, instead, a pleasure to touch and only slightly bumpy.
I got the lot in the picture for just €1.50 so that makes up for the price of meat!
My next project is to make Ratafia di arance liqueur using this recipe which kind Chiara gave me at Christmas:
3 - 4 ripe oranges
1 litre alcohol 45-50% proof [if you are making this in Britain you will have to use vodka.]
1 kg sugar
half litre water
Peel the oranges and squeeze out the juice. Put the peel, juice and any remaining pulp into a wide, glass container with the alcohol or vodka. Seal and leave for 10 days.
After 10 days, boil the water and sugar together to make a syrup. Let it cool.
Strain the orange mixture and add the syrup to the liquid.
Re-seal the container and leave it all for 2 weeks before straining it again and bottling.
Then leave it alone for 1 month!
I'll let you all know how this turns out.


"O ruddier than the cherry,
O sweeter than the berry"
- John Gay, "Acis and Galatea", 11.
Remember this? Well, now it has turned into this [above]: I decided to strain and bottle my gin ai mirtilli this afternoon and very fine and smooth it tastes, too, even if I do say so myself. Cincin, everyone!

Friday, February 09, 2007


Sometimes when you live abroad the things that drive you crazy are surprisingly trivial: Today it is raining in Sicily for the first time since Christmas and, here in the country of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Enzo Ferrari and Gucci, I cannot find a sensibly designed umbrella! [My Britannic brollies have long since been blown inside out and given up the ghost, been otherwise damaged or lost.] The trouble is that the spokes won't fit nicely underneath the handles, which means that you can damage your clothes carrying the things and they make holes if you put them in a shopping bag.... A shopping bag! There's another item I can't find! I suppose it's because most people have cars and find plastic carrier bags strong enough to transport their purchases the short distance from shop to vehicle. You can find designer bags, school bags, flight bags, children's bags and men's handbags but I've yet to see a simple shopping bag for sale!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


'Strattu or estratto di pomodoro [tomato extract] is similar to the Greek tomato paste you can buy in tins in Britain, but it has a richer taste and is thicker. In summer skinned, seeded tomatoes are salted and laid out on wooden tables or boards [or in containers on balconies] to dry in the sun. During this process, the purée is stirred constantly for however many days it takes to obtain a texture resembling that of clay. Then it is put into preserving jars and covered with oil.

I don't think it's worth making it unless you have a source of home-grown tomatoes, as it can be bought easily, by weight, in shops and supermarkets these days. I like to compare the different shades of red in the various stores. The photo shows some that I bought this morning and this is how I like it: nearly black in colour, so thick that you could turn the container upside-down and the paste will not move and smelling not only of tomatoes but very definitely of the sun. Incidentally, I tried to make it once in Britain during what passes, there, for a hot summer. But that northern sun is just not hot enough to dry the purée out, for all our cries of "What a scorcher!"
I do make my own tomato sauce and always add a dollop of 'strattu to the mixture.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


- I think so. This Florence Studio figurine is my early birthday present to myself. Giorgio's temptation-filled shop on the Via Sacro Cuore has a whole window of similarly magnificent ladies, causing me to smile as I pass and making me feel glad to be alive and a curvy woman.

Monday, February 05, 2007


The funeral of the policeman murdered in Friday's football violence has taken place in Catania. What has upset me, and I should think the whole of Italy, is the image of his nine-year-old son standing there in a policeman's uniform. No words can express the tragedy and futility of this death more clearly than that.
If you follow this link and click on one of the four smaller photos, a screen will come up listing more.
For the media, politicians and football officials present at the funeral, I suppose today marks the end of a stage in football's crisis. But for ispettore Raciti's family, the pain is only just beginning.
No football is to be played in Italy for at least another week.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Remember my procrastination of three weeks ago over how to use my supermarket points? Well, yesterday I was able to pick up my "loyalty reward" of this fine set of pans, complete with pasta drainer, and smart-looking onion chopper. I am rather pleased with them. Next challenge: to fine somewhere to keep them! By the way, the photo is a bit lopsided because I had to lie on the floor to take it, to avoid my own reflection showing in the gleam of the pans! Don't worry: they won't be gleaming for long...
I am making some progress, however, in the "good Italian housewife stakes"; no, I am not yet carrying a duster with me everywhere I go or ironing everything in sight, but I have discovered that I can now judge the amount of pasta needed for however many people I am cooking for by the handful, just as the Italian women do. No more weighing it [100gr per person is what Italians tell you to allow, whilst most British cookbooks suggest 2oz per person, a discrepancy which possibly arises because in Italy pasta is always a starter, never a main course] or putting spaghetti through one of those plastic things with different-sized holes in it which British cookery magazines love to give away. [I've lost the one I had, anyway.] Talking of pasta, I still put a sliced-up potato into the water, as friend Giovanna advised me to do me so many years ago [I know I've mentioned this before]; and yes, I do put a little olive oil in and, of course, plenty of coarse seasalt. I have no idea what the purpose of adding the potato is and different cooks disagree about adding olive oil. All I can tell you is, my pasta never sticks!
It's a while since I posted a recipe so, as everyone here seems to like my ragù bolognese, I thought I'd tell you how I do that. As ever, it's a recipe I have evolved over the years and it works for me:
5 - 6 tablesp. olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
2 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
small packet of pancetta cubetti
small packet dried porcini mushrooms [This is not a classic ingredient but I feel it adds a little "depth".]
80z minced pork
8oz lean minced beef
1 very large glass robust red wine
1 small can tomato paste
seasalt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the porcini mushrooms to soak in warm water for c. 15 mins.
Heat the oil in a large, wide pan [I use a wok] and fry the onion, garlic, carrot and celery till softened and the onion is transparent. Add the pancetta cubetti. Simmer it all for a few minutes.
Drain the mushrooms and chop them. [I do this with a scissors.] Add them to the pan.
Mix everything around then add the meats. Brown them, stirring all the time.
Dilute the tomato paste in a small glass of water and add to the pan.
Finally, add the wine and seasoning. [I find 10 twists of the pepper grinder to be about right.]
Stir well again, put a lid on the pan and simmer gently for c. 3 hours. Keep coming back to stir and check on the mixture - you may need to add water if it seems to be drying out.
This recipe freezes well.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


A country in shame and a city, namely Catania, in shock; that's Italy today. I guess everyone now knows that I am referring to last night's violence at a football match between Catania [ at home] and Palermo. Apparently it began because a coachload of Palermo fans travelling with a police escort did not arrive in time for the start of the game. The first pictures I saw on TV were of the players and referee running off the pitch because they were being badly affected by the tear gas which was being used to try to control the crowd outside. Then we were shown more and more scenes of unbelieveable violence from outside the stadium and I kept switching between Italian TV and Sky. It was the Sky pictures, I understand, which were transmitted around the world. A respected and dedicated 38-year-old policeman was killed during what looked more like scenes from Baghdad than Italy and today's Italian papers carry a picture of his shocked, grief-stricken wife. Believe me, that picture says it all.
I say "a country in shame" but of course there is always a minority who have to go out and heap insult upon grief as if there has not already been enough hurt. In at least two cities, tasteless graffiti referring to the dead policeman have been found. What is the matter with people?
Today we learn that a second policeman is off the critical list and that no one else who was injured is in a grave condition. That is something but everyone is so depressed and sad. All football matches in Italy have been indefinitely postponed and there has been a minute's silence for the policeman at all sporting events today. On Italian TV at lunchtime the possibility of an "Italy without football" was discussed and the Vatican has suggested that no competitive football be played for a year whilst real solutions are found. The Prime Minister has also spoken strongly. Personally I cannot see Italy abandoning its beloved game but it has been marred by corruption, violence and even racism for too long and needs to be sorted out.
Meanwhile a decent man is dead and two children are without a father. And for what? Certainly not for the "glory of sport".
If you did not see the Sky coverage, these Italian pictures convey some of the horror of what happened.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Like everyone in Italy and all over the world by now, probably, I have been watching tonight's scenes from Catania in horror and disbelief. Let me say at the outset that my heart goes out to the family of the policeman who has been killed and to the second policeman, who is in a critical condition, and his loved ones.

"È come una guerra urbana" , an Italian TV presenter has just said and, sadly, I think that's about right. When I first saw the pictures - for there's just a few seconds' delay, which you don't usually notice , before the commentary comes on - I thought , "Oh, please, don't let it be in Italy", then, "Oh, please, not in Sicily" and finally the presenters were talking and I realised that this terrible event has occurred in my beloved city of Catania.

There's not much more I can say tonight as of course everything is changing as I write but I'll let you know more about reactions here tomorrow.


Some news snippets:

Hat tip to Ellee who saw the story before I did: Berlusconi, or Il Cavaliere, as he is known in Italy, has had to apologise,via the press, to his wife for his outrageous and very public flirting with other women. I have now read the whole flowery, Italian text and you have to hand it to him for doing nothing by halves! According to polls published today, 60.4% of Italians think the couple will divorce and 53% believe Mrs B was wrong to demand a public apology. What do I think? For that lifestyle, I'd put up with a husband's flirtations and even occasional wanderings! Actually, call me a cynic but I wouldn't be surprised if the couple had dreamt up the whole thing together, for publicity.

Parts of Messina were brought to a standstill early yesterday morning by a demonstration, this time by commuters, against cutbacks in ferry services to and from the Italian mainland since the Messina collision two weeks ago. The unions are still demanding better safety measures in the port and on ferries.
[ This may be of particular interest to Gary.] A little -known consequence of the deployment of the US military on so many war fronts these days is the downturn in the economy of towns such as Motta Sant'Anastasia in the Etna area. These towns depend on trade from American military personnel stationed at the Sigonella base: whole businesses have been built up with this in mind, providing various services and goods made to order. Most people cannot remember a time when the Americans were not there and some of the latter have married and settled in Sicily. There must be economies similarly affected in many parts of the world but it is not something that we often think about.
My last piece of news for this post is a personal one: I still have some unsightly marks on my forehead and neck from Tuesday's little procedure so, being a vain woman, have not wanted to go out much. There's only one thing a girl can do when she feels this way and that's make for the hairdresser's! So I am now a redder blonde, which has perked me up no end.
I seem to have caused much hilarity over at Raffaele's this morning by sitting down on the floor to chat, in English, to a Peke dog one woman always brings with her. The beautiful creature was virtually nodding at me throughout the conversation and I looked up to find myself surrounded by giggling staff and clients. "Of course he understands everything I'm saying in English", I informed them , which caused more laughter, though I don't know why as it was perfectly true, it all being a matter of tone of voice with dogs. I don't often take Simi over there as I usually have to visit a supermarket afterwards but it's nice to know that I can!

Thursday, February 01, 2007


When I teach family relationship vocabulary in English, once we have looked at one or two basic family trees and students have talked about their own families, I usually show them a House of Windsor family tree. Everybody knows about Charles, Diana and Camilla and students usually like to ask questions about it all. This week one student of mine was fascinated by the term “great” in a family tree and couldn’t stop laughing when I explained that we have “great great “ and even “great great great” grandmothers and grandfathers. “What? You go on adding ‘greats’ even if you are talking about five generations back?!” she exclaimed in Italian. [Italian uses bisnonno, trisnonno for great and great great grandfathers.] I replied that this is, indeed, the case and didn’t have the heart to tell her that very few people in Britain would know their family history that far back. [Or maybe I’m wrong, given the recent interest in genealogy generated by the internet.] The same student was delighted to know about Camilla’s great grandmother having been the mistress of Charles’s great great grandfather. This gave me the opportunity to teach an idiom: “It runs in the family”!


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