Monday, December 31, 2007


It was with some trepidation that I started to make a proper, French, bûche de Noël, complete with chestnut purée and whipped cream filling, yesterday morning, using the unreliable-for-baking Italian oven. The process was nerve-wracking even using my much missed British fan oven, and sometimes when the sponge cake has cracked whilst being rolled I have covered it with dark chocolate - which is as time-consuming again as making the cake in the first place. However, yesterday the culinary gods seemed to be with me and it turned out perfectly. But then - oh, no! - imagine, reader, it is midday, you are expecting guests at 5pm, you still have loads to do, the sponge cake is lying upside down on the sugared greaseproof paper ready for rolling [which needs to be done while it is still warm] and ... you can't open the bloody jar of chestnut purée! I used all my strength on it, I tried using towels to get a grip, I held the lid under boiling water but nothing would shift it. I looked down to the street but were there any male neighbours walking about? Of course there weren't, for when is there ever a man around when you need one? Finally I jammed the thing in the door again and after several tries and a lot of swearing, this worked and didn't leave a lot of mess on the door this time! OK, so the log is rather flat as logs go, but I thought it looked respectable enough not to need the couverture.

If you're thinking my image of the full table looks a bit wonky, that's because the table is, rather, and there is also a lot of furniture which I can't move between it and the point where I was standing to take the photo! Now, left to right: mini Christmas puddings [the reaction of Italians to anything called "pudding" is similar to that of the French, ie., uproarious laughter but I like to give them an idea about it, you see]; I put out dishes of almonds as I have learnt that if you give a Sicilian some fresh ones he or she will happily nibble on them however long you keep them waiting for other items; and I always have to have bowls of crisps in case - well, in case I've under-catered! In the centre you see my "cake things with apricots", an idea I found in a woman's magazine years ago: all you do is soak some bought spongecake or Swiss roll in the liqueur of your choice plus some orange juice, then drain them and plonk a tinned apricot on top of each slice. Glaze the apricots with melted apricot jam to which you have added a little cornflour then dollop a bit of cream around them and chuck some chopped, toasted almonds over the lot. Everyone will think you have spent ages making these but they are a doddle. In the foreground is the bûche, which received much acclaim. Right: My excuse for serving guacamole and "my" tortilla chips [soft tortillas which I have deep-fried and flavoured with salt, parmesan and a little paprika] is that British cookery is now international and I like to remind my guests of this; the other reason is that Sicilians seem to like them! [On the rare occasions that I find limes here, I freeze the grated rind and juice separately, so that I can nearly always whizz up a bowl of guacamole!] I also served cheese "bites" with cotognata and radishes and, in my opinion, if you are having a tea party, there just have to be sausage rolls! The best way I can make sausage rolls that are anything like they should be here is to chop up some skinless Wurstel sausages with a little onion, sage and / or oregano and then use the fine frozen puff pastry which is available. Oh, yes, and I again made hot tea for those who wanted it [you should see the Sicilians looking bemused at the British guests who take it with milk!] and my tea punch.

Now, "Once a teacher always a flaming teacher", as an ex of mine used to say in exasperation, so I had printed out copies of the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne, and before we opened the Asti I explained the tradition to the Sicilians, got them all to repeat the words after me then we joined hands and sang it [to a "Xmas in Vienna " version I have, I hasten to add - it would be a disaster if I were to try to be lead singer!] Thus I have once more convinced the Sicilians that the British are completely mad!

What am I doing tonight? I have a DVD of Nuovo Mondo [another recommendation from the excellent Sicily Guide] the remains of the guacamole and tortilla chips, some gin and some Cointreau and I am going to snuggle up with Simi, who deserves a festa night with her Mum! Before I settle down, though, I am going to cook a lentil and potato hotpot as lentils eaten on New Year's Eve, it is believed here, will ensure your financial wellbeing for the year to come. So Buona Festa tonight and Buon Anno, dear readers - and, wherever you are, don't forget to eat your lentils!

Auguri and love from Simi and me X woof!

Diana Krall-New Years Eve

Saturday, December 29, 2007


The shutters rattled all night as it thundered, hailed and rained and a storm always sounds worse than it is from indoors, here. Today it has continued to rain incessantly but look what I found, defiantly raising their dainty heads in an unlikely and neglected corner of the street, despite the weather. They give me hope.

I have, rather rashly, invited about 20 of the amici to a "Christmas Tea" tomorrow. I hate making cakes and "tea party" food - I would rather cook a 10-course dinner banquet - but, as I can't sit 20 people at a time for dinner and do not have time to invite each group around on separate evenings, a "come and go as you please" tea seems the best option as I must do SOME entertaining of my own!

Partly because of the weather and partly because I needed to go to two out-of-the-way supermarkets, I again hired a taxi to get my errands done quickly this morning. Some of you may remember that last time, when I wanted a taxi for 9 am, I rang the driver the day before and he said "OK, 10.30 am." So this time I asked if the taxi could come at 11 am, and, true to form, he declared, "OK, 9 am". On the way, I explained that I was buying ingredients to cook for a "tea party" and he asked, "Is it true that the English have tea at 5pm?" When I said, "Yes, sometimes" he threw back his head and roared with laughter as he seemed to find this idea incredibly funny.

Well, I'm off now to start my cooking marathon. Back in the early hours, I expect.

Friday, December 28, 2007


... for a pretty girl.

Hi, folks - Simi here again!

I thought I'd just drop in between feste to let you know that I'm having buone feste too! Santa Paws came just as my Mummy promised he would and he brought me some new toys to eat - I mean "play with" [she's watching!] - and I have had lots of foodie presies.

Mummy is out a lot more these days and I didn't understand at first when she said she was off to the "centesimi kennel". Then I worked out it must be similar to the "penny kennel" she used to go to every day in Britain. Oh, well, if it means she can buy me more deli-bons [my favourite Italian treats] I suppose I will allow it. I don't think many of the centesimi end up in the "banking kennel" along the road, though, as she keeps coming back with new bags! It's funny but I seem to be getting more walkies since this development as she rushes home between classes to take me out! - That's 'cos I'm good at looking cute and making her feel guilty [hee-hee!]

I've decided I quite like this new bed, a Xmas present from my friend Mr Enzo's doggie-grooming-shop. Its colours set off my fur, don't you think? And I can snuggle up in it while I let Mummy use the computer and check what she's doing, for a doggie-girl never knows what her human might get up to!

Happy New Year to all my readers, especially my blog-doggy pals Mr Bowser [he's one of my suitors, you know] la bella Belle, Mojo il magnifico and gorgeous George! Auguri from Simi X

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Christmas Day at 12 noon and it was off to Linda and Gino's, where the same company as a few hours before reassembled, along with even more friends. Daughter of the house Chiara always comes up with original table decorations and this year she used black and white photographs of everyone as place cards. Above you see mine. The food images show: individual vegetable pies as antipasti; lasagne; sausage; chicken with stuffing; rabbit [I like this idea of garnishing it with pomegranate seeds]; pork and turkey. There were accompaniments of potato purée, roast potatoes, prunes in Calvados and garden salads. Oh, and I was the purveyor of homemade cranberry sauce! After all that meat, I don't know how we found room for the panettone at the end, but somehow, we did! Then came the toasts - to the food! "Brindiamo agli antipasti!" ["Let's toast the antipasti!"] cried one guest, so we all did. "Brindiamo alla pasta!" cried another and we followed suit. And on it went, till each dish on the menu had been duly celebrated. Even the cranberry sauce was toasted, I am glad to say.

When Gino drove me home, at around 5pm, there was a whole group of men standing at the gate. At first I thought there must be something wrong in the apartment block and started to panic for Simi, but then saw that it was only the neighbourhood men who had come outside for a smoke and an afternoon gossip. Reader, I was embraced by every one of them!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Among my gifts was this pottery Xmas tree decoration from Caltagirone, Sicily's pottery town. The pattern is a typical one. And Chiara gave me this "Buon Natale" peg.[I cannot get the photo to show the print on it.] I shall treasure both for many years to come. The peg is on the tree at the moment but it has occurred to me that it could join my "Rudolph" clothespeg [made by a clever friend in Nevada] on my coat lapel! I love receiving little presents like this, for so much thought has gone into the giving.


On Christmas Eve it was off to a large and happy gathering at Maria and Luca's: I took along my wonky gingerbread tree [and the biscuits were eaten in double quick time!] the Christmas Pudding vodka, a bottle of Asti and a panettone. Here are the food images from the evening:

1. Maria's lovely table centre [proving that simple ideas work the best].
2. Scacci ri ricotta [focacce filled with ricotta and onion]. It's interesting that in Sicilian dialect, Italian di becomes ri.
3. Buccateddi ri ciuretti [focacce filled with cauliflower]. In dialect bucca indicates something which has been folded [ie, the pastry].
4. Buccateddi ri aita [aita being chard]. Note also that Italian ll is replaced by dd in dialect.
5. Baccalà [salt cod, traditional all over Italy on Xmas Eve]. These were fried in the manner of the town of Augusta.
6. Calamari ripieni in salsa [filled calamari - squid - in sauce].
7, 8, 9. As some of you will know, I can't eat fish of any sort, so I just had more focacce and a lot of the following salads: orange and onion, cedro [citron], fennel .
10 & 11. Dessert was tiramisù della zia [Aunt's tiramisù - a very young aunt, I must say!] This was scrummy! Tiramisù can be a temperamental dish, especially as Italians are likely to quote you imprecise quantities [and this is a dish which does require some precision]. I use a Delia recipe these days, to be sure.

After la cena and before midnight we played the inevitable tombola. On the stroke of midnight there were glasses of Asti, then we all walked around the long table, greeting, embracing and kissing each other, only we couldn't quite work out if a one-way system was in operation so some of us got kissed several times by the same people! Suddenly, Santa appeared from nowhere, his reindeer considerately having deposited the bags of gifts right at the balcony door, little Francesco [Maria's 5-year-old grandson] was dressed up as - well, I'm not sure - an angel or a wise man or a bit of both - and ran about the room delivering the presents from Santa's sack, taking his duty very seriously indeed and much chaos and merriment followed. Outside the church bells rang, the night was clear and the Christmas stars shone upon us, every one!

Monday, December 24, 2007


I meant to be here much earlier today but have spent most of the afternoon constructing this gingerbread biscuit "tree" which wouldn't come quite right. The only way I could get the "star" on the top to stick [with icing] was to level it off. I should have put more silver cachous on it and said it was meant to be a crown. Never mind, by the time it's eaten - probably at around 2 am - nobody will notice!

The "Christmas Pudding vodka" has turned out well, I must say, and I think the dried cranberries have improved the colour. I did enjoy making [fresh] cranberry sauce yesteday: I'd forgotten how seasonal it makes the kitchen smell and about the satisfying "popping" sound the cranberries make as their skins burst.

Off to tonight's festa in a moment but before I go I would like to wish you, whether your main celebration is tonight, tomorrow or not at all, a happy festive season plus love, health and peace.

Christmas is a difficult time for those who are unwell, grieving, worried about a loved one or otherwise "low" as it magnifies everything. I've known enough Christmases like that so my heart goes out to all who are not feeling particularly festive at this time. I am thinking particularly of my blogging friend Leslie at the moment; if you have time to pay her a visit over the next few days, I know she would appreciate your good wishes. I hope things get better for you and yours, Leslie.

Auguri a tutti and love from Sicily from Simi and me. xxxx

Bobby Darin - Simple Song of Freedom

Not a Christmas song, but a message of peace. Why this isn't more widely known as one of the great anti-war anthems I don't know. Anyway, this is my hope for the world this Christmas - that we learn to live in peace.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Well, I know we aren't quite, but we will be, by the time my colour has had its first shampoo tomorrow.

I never did buy the flimsy-handled bag I fancied a few weeks ago, but could not resist this sequinned number yesterday. The trouble is, I got it home and realised that I did not have a single pair of shoes that would "do" with it. So today ....

We are doing rather well for panettone, as Gina and family turned up earlier bearing this strawberry-flavoured one. [I do like this year's pretty tins.] All are gratefully received and I think we'll be having griddled slices with quince preserve for breakfast for quite some time! Italians, when they enter the flat, amuse me as always, asking the usual question at this season: "Are all your cards from this year?!"

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Back in October - November I helped the daughter of a neighbour with some post-graduate research. She lives in the north of Italy with her husband and two babies so we communicated by email and phone. It involved me in quite a lot of work but, although she tried to insist on paying me, I didn't feel that it would have been appropriate to charge her as her father belongs to the "army of men" who have promised to rush round here if I am frightened by would-be intruders at night again. I could also sense the pressure the poor young lady was under and wanted to help.

Anyway, she is at home in Sicily for Christmas and called me this afternoon to ask if she could come round at 8pm because she had a pensiero [small gift] for me. At 8 precisely the buzzer rang and she staggered into my kitchen with this hamper, containing a nice novel to read, wine, several jars of antipasto and preserved vegetables, cheeses, dried sausage, salted peanuts, chocolates, 3 types of Modican chocolate and a Baci -flavoured panettone. Simi and I just gaped at it all in astonishment and, as I said to Simi later, I don't think we are going to starve in the near future!

Talking of gifts, Raffaele the hairdresser likes the packaging of mine to him, in this Xmas stocking which I bought in the UK in October. After I explained to him that in Britain Santa only comes to good children and that the gifts are placed in the stocking, he gave it pride of place on his tree and it fascinated his other clients for the rest of the day. Oh, I'm a proper redhead now, by the way!

Friday, December 21, 2007

FILIPPA GIORDANO Dreaming of a White Christmas (Live Tokyo)

This version is growing on me and I want that collar she's wearing!

Mina _ Bianco Natale ( White Christmas ) _ 1968

This makes me chuckle, for it certainly shows how the presentation of music has changed and is also a perfect example of a song that does not translate well, which is why it is usually sung in English here. I also keep wondering about the chap at the end of the table, in the foreground - he looks a bit of a twit, really! I do like this clip, though!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


The book on Lombardian cookery [ in the foreground on the left] arrived from a friend in Milan this morning. I really like this series on regional and city cooking and, as you see, have the Sicilian, Tuscan and Milanese volumes. Each recipe is given in Italian, dialect and English. I bought the Sicilian tome during my first visit here in 1992 and have more or less cooked my way through it. I am going to have a great time working through the Lombardy volume. My Christmas present to myself, La Cucina del Sole also arrived today and it promises to be an excellent read as well as containing some glorious recipes. I want to thank Sicily Guide for recommending it. Amazon only had one copy in stock when I ordered so I am very pleased to have it. At lunchtime I received this small panettone as a gift from the Altro Posto. [I am collecting the figurines from these.] Such gestures do warm your heart and make you want to go back.

Today's Post Office fiasco: Silly me, I thought that the queue didn't look too bad when Simi and I walked past this morning, so a little later in marched your intrepid blogger, with just a card for the USA, a small one for Canada and a package for Milan to post. The holder of postal ticket number 66 was being served when I entered, so when ticket number 74 popped out of the machine for me I didn't think I'd be there for more than a few minutes...... Half an hour later my number came up and I could have screamed when the clerk declared, "The card for Canada is too small, signora. You'll have to put it in a bigger envelope and come back". Reader, I lost my pazienza again. "Signora, " said I, "I have already waited half an hour and I do not have time to come back. I could understand it if you said an item was too big but how can it be too small? I don't care if I have to pay extra because it's an irregular size but there must be a way of posting it now." "I'll check", she replied. "Still prioritaria?" "Yes", I confirmed [why should I want to post it any other way?] and lo and behold, the computer came up with a price. You shouldn't have to argue to get them to check postal methods! I was all smiles and "Merry Xmas" after that so we parted on good terms. But how, I ask myself again, can there be only one postal counter open 5 days before Christmas? And how can the manager, who is always prancing about smilingly, watch all this chaos and not open another? I wanted to collar him this morning and yell, "Look! You can't possibly be satisfied with this!" The lady clerks, though, become quite human once they leave the place, as Simi and I often encounter them on their way home whilst we are on our evening walk. They pet her, talk to her and, if it's cold, ask where her coat is. "She's got a red one for the rain and a blue one, hasn't she?" observed one of the ladies on Tuesday. They were amused to learn that Simi has more coats than her Mum!

211 clandestini [would-be illegal immigrants] were intercepted off the Isole Pelagie yesterday. They were travelling in a 16-metre fishing vessel. They have had medical checks and are now at the Lampedusa "welcome" centre awaiting a decision on their next destination. I wonder what sort of Christmas these disperati will have?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Hi, folks – Simi here!

Yes, I’m a big girl of 9 today and a dog’s life just gets better and better!

This morning I found this Christmas photo of us taken back in cold old Cardiff in 1999, my first Christmas with my Mummy. [I don't remember my very first one!] We’ve still got our tree and I used to chew the decorations on the lower branches – well, what did she expect, with her dried orange slices and cranberry rings? – but now we’re in Sicily she buys nice, big poinsettias for me to dig up. [I did that on Saturday and I must say she didn’t seem all that pleased!]

Do you like my card? I can read Italian quite well now so I know it says, “Thank you, because we always play together” - when she hasn’t got her nose stuck in a book, that is! Look, I sneaked a photo of our lounge so you can see that she’s not joking when she tells you she’s got all these books! Sometimes I have to nudge her really hard and bark like crazy to remind her it’s walkies time! She didn’t want me to show you the room as she’s afraid you’ll look at the dust but I’m sure you won’t do that when you can admire my “Mister Tyrey” toy that I left on the settee specially! Talking of toys, I got this new stringy one for my birthday presie. I’ve been throwing it about but I think I’ll give it a good chew later. Oh, yes, I nearly forgot to tell you that we’ve got our paw socks up in plenty of time. Mummy assures me Santa Paws is coming through the lounge window this year!
The last photo is for Auntie jmb because I read her comment in Mummy’s post yesterday. [I can read Australian and Canadian, too! Did she tell you our cousin came all the way from Australia-land to see me last week?] I’ve got 3 beds, Auntie, but I like to snuggle up in Mummy’s bed best – that’s what she bought it for, after all!

Well, that’s all for now but I’ll be back before Christmas to cheer up all my readers! Auguri, everybody, in the meantime! Oh, my Mummy wants a word: “Cara Simi, I’d have been so happy 9 years ago today if I’d known you were just coming into the world! Tanti, tanti auguri darling .”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


As I've mentioned before, shops and businesses here who value your custom like to give you a Christmas gift, so we have got this rather large umbrella from Raffaele the hairdresser and a new, pretty dog bed for a pretty girl from the pet store. As you see, Simi isn't quite sure of it yet! I think this giving of little gifts is a good practice because it does cheer you up and make you feel a certain warmth towards the particular shop or business. [And I could do with some warmth right now - it's freezing here tonight and I am cold even with the heating on.]

And look what came in the post today! For the first time in 3 years, I 'll be able to make cranberry sauce! My friend did pack them well.

I've had a good day at work and have enjoyed being kissed by all the students whom I will not see again before Christmas, even though they hardly know me! Many are rescheduling their lessons next week so as not to miss out on their hours. This is still a revelation to me, having taught in the UK where most will use any excuse not to come to lessons!

I want to thank jmb and Shades for getting my blog header back! It's been playing up for weeks and at the weekend virtually disappeared - it's all blogger's fault, I gather - making me want to take a hammer to the computer and causing Simi to be very busy drying my tears of exasperation! Grazie, cari amici del Blogpower.


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