Monday, March 31, 2008


I have always loved the Sanremo Music Festival and I have visited that lovely Ligurian town. I can't believe that this festival is exactly as old as I am! This is my favourite entry this year:

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Here's how one of yesterday's polpettone from the butcher looked after I'd cooked it tonight and you can also see how I chose to present it. One was quite enough for a cosy supper for two [I have frozen the other one].

Note to my students: "looked after I'd [ = "had"] cooked it" - the meaning is I cooked it first, then this is how it looked!

Saturday, March 29, 2008


We have had our sun back today, along with a temperature of 22 C outside at lunchtime and so, for the first time in weeks, I felt like sauntering down to the location of "the best butcher in town": it is not far away, but it is an uphill walk back and that is not easy when you are carrying a lot of bags in inclement weather.

Here's what I got there for 40 € :
Back row, left to right: 6 super-sized lemons, 4 arancini [rice balls - all right, pyramids, then], 2 "thingies" [about which more below].
Middle row, left to right: 1 kilo small pears, 1 kilo lamb pieces on the bone, a large pack of basil.
Front row: 6 breaded veal escalopes and a pack of datterini tomatoes.

I have made arancini but in my opinion the experts can make them better and that is generally my philosophy about ready-prepared food: make what you know will turn out well at home but buy what can be prepared better professionally. I would guess that this is the philosophy of most Italians, too. Why make a mess egging and breading escalopes yourself if a butcher will do it freshly on the premises and make a neater job of it? Now, you may be wondering about the "thingies" at the back right of the first picture and so was I ! I asked the butcher if they had a name and he said they were "sort of polpettone" [big meatballs] of pork mince encased in very thin beef fillet. When I cook one I will let you know how it tastes!

I am out of touch with UK prices by now, but wherever you are, I would be interested to know whether you think this was a "good haul" for my 40 euros!

According to survey results published today, you can forget the sushi bars that have become popular all over Italy in recent years because pasta is still the number one food preference here. The percentage of those who eat meat often has increased by almost half since 2007 but strangely the popularity of pizza is decreasing. 77.7% of Italians taking part in the survey said they still buy local specialities, choosing cheeses, salami, oil, bread and wine, in that order. Consumption of liqueurs is down [but I don't think these statistics take into account those made at home, which reminds me, it's about time I got my own little distillery going again!] Wine production is lower than in 2007 because of climactic factors. Consumption of mozzarella di bufala is up in Italy, despite recent problems. Well done, the Italians, for supporting, on the whole, their own, beloved food produced in the time-honoured way.

By the way, I am still awaiting the plumber-electrician man - pazienza!

Friday, March 28, 2008


Last night's photo is of a perfectly formed lemon frutto di Martorana made from almond paste. It was given to me in its pretty little bucket as an Easter pensiero by a friend and nothing could have delighted me more.

[I was going to put this on as an update to the previous post but then decided it would take me half the night to rejiggle the spacing if I added another photo to it!]

Thanks to all who tried to guess!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Phew! - Very busy day today, but I think I can just about get a sort of post up by midnight: what is this, then, readers? Guess!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The weather over Easter was just terrible in Sicily, particularly on Easter Monday when winds of up to 100 km an hour were recorded on the Tyrrhenian coast of the island. Here in Modica we had hail that evening and sensible Simi dragged her mummy back from our walk!

For 4 days there were no ferries to the Isole Eolie [services are reported to have recommenced today] and phone lines and electric cables were down in Agrigento. In Palermo a tree fell onto the balconies of a block of flats, an old, uninhabited block just gave up the ghost and crumbled into the ground and trees also fell onto car parks. In Acireale a publicity placard fell onto 4 cars and a motorbike. I am happy to report that I have read of no injuries or fatalities.

Already feeling cold and grumpy, my mood was not helped by the fact that I woke up this morning to find – you guessed it! – no running water. I had not phoned the Comune to order any on Friday as a lorry-load had arrived , to my surprise, on Thursday. [They must have been filling up the cisterns before the holiday.] Once we have a refill, we are usually all right for 9 – 10 days. I have no idea why the supply dried up so soon this time and did not appreciate it when my buzzer sounded at 8am and the angry voice of a co-tenant yelled, “Why can’t we have a little cooperation over the water supply in this block?” [I don’t think the lady was angry at me so much as at the situation, but I am not at my sunny best at 8 am, reader.] I calmly agreed that cooperation would be a fine thing and explained why I had not called the Comune on Friday. I added that I would not be able to do anything about the situation today as I was about to go to work and would be there until late. The lady then said that she would call the Comune herself. This evening I walked stiffly back home, looking forward to a hot shower though without much hope. But - wonders truly never cease – when I tried the taps, out flowed pure, beautiful water! In these circumstances, reader, you just utter a “thank you” to the neighbour, the Comune or whoever wrought this miracle, get in the shower fast and enjoy it!

For the past 4 days I have had no lighting in my [long] hallway as I can only just reach the goddamn light bulbs to change them, even from a ladder. I can’t get a firm grip on them and the fittings just go round and round, as if they were having a fairground ride. So – OK, I admit I’m scared of total darkness – I have had the bathroom light on overnight so that I can at least see the hallway. But now that has failed too [ no, I can’t reach it] and I am generally rather pissed off. Or I was, until dear Raffaele the hairdresser said he would come over and change the bulbs for me! I haven’t accepted the offer as I couldn’t get back from work between classes today, but it was a kind thought. I am being a very bad feminist here!! [Are you cheering, James?]

Amid all this doom and gloom [I know it’s trivial but it isn’t when you have no one you can take for granted] I was immensely cheered in the Altro Posto at lunchtime as I watched a member of staff chalking the day’s specials onto a board: three times she wrote each item and three times, not content with her handwriting [which seemed perfectly fine to me] she rubbed them off and started again – this despite the fact that they were short-staffed today and she was, for a while, bartender, cook and waitress. I do love Italians and their sense of perfection!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


There are some Italian dishes that are such a joy to prepare, the process requiring so much care, pazienza and love, that I forget about everything else and am completely happy when engaged in the task.

Thus it was yesterday when I made these polpettine - another recipe from the Cucina del Sole book, which I love because it has instructions like, "Add an egg or 2", "Roll the mixture into balls and then, when they feel right, add seasoning " and , most importantly, "Use your hands" [something which my mother always told me a good cook does]. In other words, the book allows the cook her instinct.

I am the first to admit that my food pictures aren't perfect and, just like my meatballs, they are not of uniform shape and size: I do crop out some of the kitchen paraphernalia and sometimes use the "auto enhance" but I don't otherwise "doctor" them - I wouldn't know how! - and I don't steal them from recipe books, either. I tell it like it is in my kitchen!

The meatballs contain: lean minced beef, chopped capers, basil, garlic, pane grattuggiato [very fine breadcrumbs] plus olive oil and egg to bind . After being browned, they are cooked in a home-made tomato sauce [here my summer's labour is rewarded as I always have some in the freezer] to which red wine and sugar is added, along with a little chilli [I used my chilli spray, which I find excellent]. Chopped almonds form the garnish.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Today [Easter Monday] has been one of the coldest I have experienced in Sicily and we even have hail!! There is not a soul about outside and Simi dragged me back from our walk tonight [she always did have more sense than her mummy!] The Pasquetta [Easter Monday] picnic has been ruined for many but I was intending to have a nice day at home with Simi anyway.

I still feel warm when I think of yesterday's wonderful feast at Chiara's:

To begin with, we had pizzette spoletine [recipe below] served with excellent prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes and olives. Of course, you cannot have a festa in Italy without pasta, otherwise the revolution would have reached these shores, so here it is, in picture 3, as prepared by one of Chiara's many aunts. Chicken and two lamb dishes followed [the second one pictured being flavoured with delicate, wild thyme from the Cava.] Truly magnificent Sicilian blood oranges were served next and a great deal of discussion as to how they should be cut ensued: Sicilians do not segment their oranges as we do in Britain, but top and tail, then peel them spirally; if some pith remains, it does not matter, for it is thin enough and soft enough to be eaten too. Finally, Chiara had made this delightful ciambello. I think her idea of decorating it with fresh spring flowers is just perfect.

Here is Chiara's recipe for pizza spoletina, just as she copied it down many years ago. [I don't think she used these gargantuan quantities yesterday, though!]
40 eggs
5 kilos strong bread or type 0 flour
1 kilo grated cheese, such as parmesan, pecorino romano and groviera [gruyère]
500 gr strutto or white vegetable fat
a little lievito di casa [bread starter] - and I am assured it must be di casa, not bought yeast.
Make a dough from the the first 4 ingredients, then mix in the lievito. Mix well, knead and leave to rise. Shape into pizze, put on an oiled and floured baking tray and bake for c. 30 mins at 200 C.

Buon appetito.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Here's someone else who wants to show off her Easter finery. [Her mummy has just realised why fashion photographers earn so much money - it's incredibly difficult!]



Here the woman is proactive in "getting her man" and the man, for a change, is showered with gifts and compliments. I watch this film every year at Easter and I still love it! [Besides, who else can move like the great Fred Astaire?]

Buona Pasqua to all.


Saturday, March 22, 2008


The fava [broad] bean has been available in Sicily for a month now, and that is much too early in this lovely region where the idea that each food has its season is still respected. Some varieties of plum and apple are ripe 10 days earlier than usual, whilst mulberries, cherries and apricots are ready 5 days before they would normally be on sale. Quality, it is feared, is at risk and already, because of climate change, these days the best cherry tomatoes are said to come from the north , rather than the south, of Italy.

Now, some of you will know that I'm a city girl so farming and environmental issues usually leave me cold, but even I can see that the long-term effects of this situation on my beloved Sicily could be devastating.

2008 is expected to be one of the hottest years since records began and it is reported that the winter of 2007 was the warmest since 1800 here.

47% of Italians fear the effects of climate change more than they do an earthquake.


This lovely salad was just what I needed at the Altro Posto at lunchtime: the cherry tomatoes were so fresh, the sweetcorn, radicchio and grated carrot so crunchy, the prosciutto so, well, prosciutto-ey that I thought myself in heaven, reader.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Today has been as busy as any other in the shops and bars [Good Friday not being a holiday in Italy] the traffic has been as chaotic as ever and the lunchtime cacophony of which I am so fond did not disappoint. Why, then, did I feel as though something was missing? Why did it seem, somehow, too quiet? Later I realised: I had not heard the bells of the Sacro Cuore Church which normally punctuate my life; these were silenced late on Thursday and will sound again at 00.01 on Sunday morning. When I think of this, I just want to hug my adopted town to myself, for keeping to a time-honoured tradition.

Last week I sent a book about Modica to a friend in the UK and my friend is now having a good laugh at the mistranslations to be found in it. [This happens when publishing houses don't use qualified, mother-tongue translators -professional translators translate into, not from, their mother tongue - and the mechanics of translation may make another post one day.] Among the gems in this tome are the fact that , in the "Syphilis museum" , about which I wrote here, "you can see "butts which cured syphilis" [the "butts" were a version of the French barrels into which mercury was pumped whilst the unfortunate patient sat there] and the news that the town has a district called "Deaf". It does, indeed, have a district called La Sorda ["the Deaf One"] and I live in it! A deaf woman once owned a famous café up here.

Reader, wouldn't you like to live in a town where "butts" cure syphilis, there is a district called "Deaf" and, what is more, people have surnames which translate as Orangeblossom, Honey, Clove, Then-tomorrow [my personal favourite] and April?

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Pet dogs are generically known as "Fido" in the Italian press and thus it is reported that the Fidos of Tuscany are about to gain their freedom in all sorts of ways, for the local laws banning them [and other pets] from restaurants, beaches, public transport and indeed almost anywhere where they cannot currently accompany their owners are to be repealed by the summer. How cultured the Fidos of Florence will soon become, once they are allowed to visit that lovely city’s art galleries! My Simi thinks all this is quite right but wants me to tell you that she wouldn’t have time herself, as there are squeaky mechanisms to be got out of squeaky toys, water lorries to be awaited and barked at and, most importantly, her mummy’s bed to be kept warm whilst the latter is out earning "bonio" money at the centesimi kennel!

Other regions of Italy are expected to follow suit in ditching the laws which separate dog and owner. I am all for taking my dog nearly everywhere but I do think there is the matter of people with allergies to be considered, especially in enclosed spaces. On the other hand, Franco Zeffirelli has proved himself my hero once again by declaring that he wouldn’t take his dog to La Scala as the sounds might cause pain to his best friend – not a word about the dog’s possible barking upsetting the audience! This being Italy, though, there will have to be all sorts of health and other certificates for the pets and I find it hard to imagine the bureaucracy working smoothly.

In this area there is no problem if you want your dog to sit with you on a café terrace and I can understand the hygiene and safety reasons for the summer beach ban . But I am just dying to take Simi to a chamber concert and we are already planning what she will wear!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


A colomba is a dove and also the name of a dove-shaped cake eaten at Easter all over Italy. Like the Christmas panettone, they are usually bought, not made at home. Italians, like the French, are very sensible about what is bought and what is home-made; if you can buy a better version of a traditional sweet dish, then you do, and save your culinary talents for the primi, secondi and perhaps for the true, Easter cassata siciliana, which is a sort of tart filled with ricotta. Above you can see some made by Chiara in the past.

Yesterday in the nearby town of Vittoria, a lorry-load of "colombe" was found, by the finanziaria police, to contain colombe all right - only they were "stuffed" with packets of contraband Marlboro cigarettes! I trust they were not bound for my local supermarket.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I bring you these, reader, because I think they are interesting:

According to a survey published today, in the south of Italy more than 37% of families organise themselves all'antico, that is, along the pattern common in the 1950s - 60s, with the father being the breadwinner and the mother being a traditional housewife [as compared to 18% in the north of Italy]. However, this figure rises to 50% of families where Sicily is concerned. But - and didn't I tell you that Sicilians are never boring? - what is surprising is that both parents are involved in the upbringing of children to a much greater degree in Sicily. It seems that both parents like to go shopping with their children in Sicily, whilst this is not so in the north: also, it is usually the mother who concerns herself with schooling matters in the north, whereas in Sicily both parents involve themselves in this aspect of their children's lives in 20% of families.

On the whole, I think the Sicilians win - don't you?

Monday, March 17, 2008


The Sicilian male, you'll be glad to know, is alive, well and raring to go, according to recent studies which have sadly proved that sperm counts in Italian men have dropped drastically since the 1970s. There are, however, great regional variations in the figures, and men in Sicily, Puglia and Tuscany seemed to have fared best. The worst results have been found in the Campania region, including Naples, where environmental factors such as the current rubbish crisis are believed to have had an impact on the situation.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I got the idea for this dish from the Moro cookbook: I had some cotognata [quince paste] I wanted to use up and the book has an interesting recipe that uses this product in a sauce for roast duck. I didn't see why it shouldn't work with chicken.

Italians, it must be said, do not go in for sweet and sour combinations very much, except as a flavouring for onions and in coniglio in algrodolce [sweet and sour rabbit] and the authors of Moro caution: "... although sweet / savoury dishes can be sublime, it is a difficult balance to achieve."

Well, I am nothing if not intrepid in the kitchen and, not wanting to roast a whole chicken, I more or less followed the Moro recipe for chicken joints cooked with bay leaves, garlic and white wine. I added a couple of shallots and used only the cloves from 1 bulb of garlic rather than 2, and added the chopped quince paste with the wine at the end. Then, deciding that the dish needed one more ingredient, I added some sliced, juicy Sicilian pears. I wasn't sure if the sweet quince paste would combine well with the garlic, but needn't have worried. It was delicious!

If you are in the UK and wish to make this dish, where are you going to get your quince paste from? The type sold in some delicatessens is not hard like the sun-baked product available here but it might just do in this recipe. Otherwise, you will have to go and see Chiara!


.. and pace to you, wherever you are.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


The post below was my 1,000th!

I've had some wonderful moments in this blogging life and I've had my lows as well. And sometimes I ask myself why I, or any of us, do it. After all, if you pause and think about it, it's rather a strange activity, putting yourself on the net, then opening up about your life and sometimes your deepest emotions to all who care to read. But through blogging I have made some wonderful friends, all over the world, and I have learnt so much from them. So thank you to all who have visited, read and / or commented thus far.

As if to mark the occasion, the water lorry appeared at 8.30 am today! I had rung yesterday to request the coming week's refill, and was told, "We can even bring it tomorrow if you wish, signora". My mother told me never to look a gift lorry in the mouth* [or something like that] so I didn't, reader. [*Note to my students: the meaning of this proverb is explained here.]

Now, who better to celebrate with me - and you, I hope - but the gorgeous Patrizio?



No shortage of these in the supermarket today.

Friday, March 14, 2008


I just love the atmosphere of small Italian towns at 1 pm: there is nothing like the noise, bustle and the sense of excitement in the air as everyone looks forward to the most satisfying meal of the day. A lot of waving and greeting goes on, car horns honk happily and amazingly detailed conversations take place as their drivers hail some pedestrian acquaintance and shout their family news to him or her as they pass.

As Simi and I stroll along, I see that the roadside vegetable-seller has a lorry full of broccoli and artichokes, the latter having gone up in price from €2,50 last week to €3 for a box of 30. [Perhaps they are bigger today.] His chosen music this lunchtime is a traditional Italian dance tune . Simi hears it, catches the mood and looks set to dance!

The food shops won’t close till 1.30 or 2 pm so people are still darting in and out of them to obtain their last-minute essentials and among these will be bread [which will have arrived no more than half an hour ago] cheese and perhaps a nice packet of finely cut speck or prosciutto.

Opposite Mr T’s the children spill out of school and rush over to his store, where, like children everywhere, they stock up on lollipops and sweets – this despite the fact that they are about to partake of at least a three-course lunch. Mr T is ready for them and has his tall son standing at the door trying to keep some semblance of order. He fails, of course, but gives in good-naturedly.

Some of the hospital staff saunter along to one of the cafés, where the name of the pasta dish of the day has been proudly chalked onto a board outside. Most are content with just a plate of this and perhaps some fruit and a coffee. The background music inside is loud but you would not succeed in hearing a single note above the chatter if you were to enter! Today, though, it is warm enough to eat outside and many do. There are three cafés to choose from and all do a roaring trade.

To my delight, at either end of the street palms are being plaited into beautiful trecce [tresses] ready for Sunday and the finished ones are displayed on car bonnets. I have to buy one and the seller says he is “honoured” when I ask if I can take a photograph.

Now we stroll back and it is already quieter, at 1.30. By 2.10 it will seem like a ghost town, for all will be a tavola and many will soon be asleep. But we enjoyed the fun while it lasted.

What’s your world like at 1 pm?


Sometimes, down here on the Med., the colour contrasts and sharp outlines of everything in the sun just hit you for six. Thus it was with me this lunchtime when I beheld these red beauties planted among the fichi d'India.


In a sad follow-up to this post, I have to tell you that the father of the two boys found dead in a cistern in Gravina, Puglia at the end of February has now been placed under house arrest: he was, at first, suspected of the boys' murder and was jailed but on Tuesday it was decided that his crime was "abandonment following death". It appears that crucial hours were lost in the search for the boys at the beginning [in June 2006] because there was a delay in raising the alarm. The search, it is thought, was further hampered by misinformation relayed to the police: the father hadn't spoken to the mother in a long time and bitterness, it seems, delayed the passing on of essential details to those searching for the boys.

I would hate to have to judge such a tragic case: two young lives have been lost and the lives of all concerned have been ruined. All I can say is that everyone who was watching this news on the screen in the Altro Posto stopped eating and looked stunned. "There but for the grace of god..." seemed to be the mood.

A whole community is recriminating itself and their Mayor blames the tragedy on " indifference and a lack of sensitivity".

Those poor little souls were missing for 20 months and now their mother at least knows what happened to them: but the torment she will suffer for all her remaining days is unimaginable.

Ellee has a post on the missing and the paramount importance of immediate action here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Sicilian strawberries are less plump and more elongated than British ones but they do taste delicious. I was presented with this pretty dish of some, topped with ice cream and the freshest red fruit sauce when I asked for "un po' di frutta" at the Altro Posto today.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I did it again today – went to the Post Office, settled myself down for the inevitable wait and realised I was sitting next to someone who is inordinately fascinated by the “turn” numbers coming up on the screen. The last time this happened it was a little old gentleman who kept repeating the numbers and digging his elbow into my ribs, but this time there was another such on my left and a not-so-old little lady on my right. Both shouted out each new ticket number displayed. [I could understand it if they were just excited at the numbers moving along for the service they required, but no, they celebrated with an elbowing for every single one.] Bruised, therefore, but not yet bowed, I rose to be served when my own prodotti postali number appeared on the screen [and to be fair, I was served rather promptly today – only a 20-minute wait]. As I left, what did I see? The same protagonists still sitting there, engaged in the same pastime of “number-yelling” and thoroughly enjoying themselves in the process. Will someone please explain to me the attraction of this occupation, for I am thinking of taking it up?! I am obviously missing something, paying out, as I do, for Rai and Sky, when there is this sort of entertainment to be had for free! It makes you wonder what anyone sees in the internet, really….

It has been a stormy day here and does not promise to be a pleasant night, but it has only, thus far, been the equivalent of a blustery day in Britain at this time of year. [That is not to belittle the “real” storms we get here, which can be very scary indeed, especially for a Brit not used to thunder without lightning or horror-film-style rattling shutters.] Yet my beloved Sicilians are making, well, “heavy weather” of it, going around with their scarves clutched to their mouths again and uttering “Che brutto tempo” [= “What terrible weather”] to all they meet. But I guarantee that they do not have the heating on at home!

Bless my soul, the water lorry arrived without any prompting [on my part, at least] today! I had tried to phone to order a tankful for the condominio on Friday but no one answered early on; then, once I am at work and teaching, I forget about anything else [which is as it should be]; phoned on Saturday but was told I had to phone on Monday; phoned yesterday and yes, the “order” was taken! When I came back at lunchtime today I could tell, by the lack of pressure, that we were going to run out at any minute and was just swearing [rather loudly] to myself when Simi barked: "No, it won't be our load yet", I remonstrated but on her insistence ventured out onto the balcony to check – and there it was, reader; one lovely, big water lorry delivering to us! And I am a lady who didn’t believe in miracles….

Monday, March 10, 2008


I think this is superb: both the song and the pictures here express perfectly the contrasts encountered in this wonderful, though often troubled and frequently exasperating, country where I live - and which I love with all my heart.


Sunday, March 09, 2008


In the run-up to Easter, lamb is more easily found in the shops and yesterday morning I took my trusty tome, Frances Bissell's Book of Food along to the jolly, gesticulating butcher to show him how lamb chops are cut in Britain. I most certainly don't want to indulge in traditional British cooking here, but I don't want to cook Italian all the time, either, and for certain lamb dishes I do want some cuts that are not all bone and that I can actually do something with! The butcher and his three assistants pored over the illustrations and, to be fair, seemed quite interested [though I'm sure they later had a fine discussion on the madness of the British, who, as all Italians know, not only eat breakfast but partake of fried food at this meal, figurati - imagine!] and above you may behold the chops I ended up with.

They worked perfectly fine for Sophie Grigson's Spiced Lamb with Roots and Alliums [minus the parsnips, which are impossible to obtain here]: the recipe contains tamarind, nigella [kalonji] seeds, new potatoes, red onions, turmeric and lots of lovely garlic. It smells divine whilst cooking, if I say so myself. It is a dish that always thoroughly warms me up.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


I have been tagged by the excellent Beaman for the book meme which is currently doing the blog rounds. As it is a literary meme, I will do it! You have to grab the nearest book to hand, turn to page 123 and write down the 5th sentence and the next 3. OK, I am currently reading the 2003 edition of Flora Fraser's biography of Emma, Lady Hamilton, Beloved Emma. To be honest, I am finding this tome to be one of those rather dreary historical biographies which describes in detail not only every meal but also almost every bowel movement of its protagonists. However, I persevere because I like reading of the Hamiltons' life in Naples at the time of the "Kingdom of the Two Sicilies" and, as long-term readers of this blog will know, I am fascinated by Nelson's Sicilian connection, which I wrote of last year in a series of posts beginning here. Horatia Nelson, Nelson and Emma's illegitimate daughter, is buried in the chuchyard at Pinner, [north London] where I used to live. [Poor lady - she could never bring herself to acknowledge Emma as her mother.] And this romanticised version of the lovers' story is said to have been Churchill's favourite film.

Sentence 5 on page 123 quotes Emma herself, writing of Sir William Hamilton:
"He has no diners, but what I can be of the party."
She goes on:
"Nobody comes without they are civil to me; we have always good company. "
Now Fraser takes up the narrative:
"From this proud summary, we can deduce that there were some ladies and gentlemen who preferred not to come but to be uncivil about Emma elsewhere. There had been further changes in the domestic arrangements."
I think sentence 3 here is interesting as it makes one wonder how much has really changed with regard to how both men and women are apt to treat a woman they regard as "fallen".

I don't tag but some of you may find this a pleasant meme to do.

Note to my students : the first two sentences quoted from the book are written in an 18th century English style which you should not copy!


This is one of my Advanced level students, who arrived yesterday bearing these beautiful Women's Day bouquets of mimose for Cathy, Paola and me at the School. That was such a lovely thought and of course we just had to have another photo call!

Paola has asked me to remind you all that we do actually do a lot of work at the School [!] and for further information on our courses and services, please contact her at:


Friday, March 07, 2008


I know I keep on about gel al limone but it is such a light, refreshing, dessert and, again, I just love the way each individual establishment or even each waiter within an establishment makes it their own by the way they present it. At the Altro Posto today it was decorated simply with lemon peel, but such beautifully perfumed lemon peel! Reader, you must smell and taste a fresh Sicilian lemon if you haven't already done so: it should be on your list of things to do before you die!
UPDATE, 9.3.08: My friend mountaingirl has asked for the recipe for gel so here it is. [I don't know how to put a link in the comments!]

Thursday, March 06, 2008


A student put me on to this and I just had to post it as it is so beautiful. It reminds me that [apart from the post office and the water supply] I live in one of the most wonderful places on earth.

Don't worry if you don't understand Italian - just enjoy. And ladies, enjoy Luca Zingaretti, too!

Grazie al mio studente Luca.

To my students: in this case the phrasal verb "put [someone] on to [something]" means "tell someone about something."



After an anxious night during which my Simi was not herself [a stomach upset but my great fear is always that it will turn out to be a mass] we have had an excellent start to today: She seemed on fine form this morning but I decided we should amble along to the vet in any case. The kindly vet could find nothing seriously wrong and while we were there he checked her lovely eyes. I am so relieved to be able to write that the medication is working and the cataracts are arrested! [I had thought her eyes were brighter but had hardly dared to hope.] I was not even charged for the consultation, the vet being content with a handshake and a smile [I cannot remember ever having a free veterinary consultation in Britain] so we walked back with a spring in all our paws.

We were just in time to meet the postwoman who was carrying not one but two packages addressed to us: one contained this beautiful teatowel [that's a word which fascinates one of my students] with native motif from jmb in Canada [again, don't you make some amazing friendships through blogging?] and the other was a parcel of goodies I had asked a friend in Britain to send: a tube of harissa, some egg wraps from Lakeland, some postcards of Wales to put up at work and my friend added this delightful print of the Dylan Thomas boathouse [Laugharne] which I shall of course have framed. My copy of Private Eye [a British satirical magazine] arrived too!

As we strolled back this morning there were artichokes being sold by the roadside everywhere, for it is coming up to Easter and that is artichoke-barbecuing time here. How could I continue to feel low in a land where I can buy 30 carciofi for €2,50?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


The water lorry, I am pleased to report, arrived at 9.15 this morning. You cannot imagine the relief I felt, reader and I nearly kissed the driver! After a good, long soak in an aromatherapy bath of teatree and olive oil gel plus a visit to Raffaele the hairdresser I felt able to face the world again.

The outside temperature today has been 18 C and it felt very pleasant indeed. However, I still shiver indoors! A student attending a class this evening was surprised that I had the bombola heater on [this gentleman is as terrified of the things as I am] and exclaimed, "But it's nearly 20 C out there!" Well, "out there" is not "in here" and I refuse to keep a jacket on indoors. I don't think the Sicilian students know quite what to make of this strange, Celtic being who is nearly always cold.

I do like the way Sicilians emphasise their salutations, as in "Signora, buongiorno" with extra tonic stress on the second word [instead of the more usual "Buongiorno, signora"] and usually accompanied by a little bow from the men. A few of these and I am quite set up for the day!

Now here's a funny thing, not really qualifying as a "daily doing" but I will include it here as it does come under the heading of "daily life": it is reported today that 24% of Sicilian families find themselves in financial difficulty towards the end of each month; 25% do not have enough money to meet medical expenses [Italy has a free health service, of course, but you do have to pay for some procedures, such as blood tests and there are minimal prescription charges]; yet 25% of Sicilian families bought a new car last year and there is a boom in car sales in the poorest areas of the south. Sicilians also spend 5% less on food per annum than northern Italian families [but it occurs to me that this may be because so many of them grow at least some fruit and vegetables] and a staggering 35% less on other consumer items.
My Sicilians are never boring!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


For the want of water
the shower 's lost
For want of a shower
her movement 's lost*
For the want of movement
the teacher is lost
For the want of their teacher
the students are lost
For the want of the students
new linguists are lost
For the want of new linguists
diplomacy’s lost
For want of diplomacy
the peace hopes are lost
For want of the peace hopes
the whole world is lost

- and all for the want of a few drops of water in one bloody cistern in Sicily! Comune di Modica, please get your act together!

*I am arthritic and can hardly move unless I have a hot shower in the morning!

Ai miei studenti: Sto scherzando : Io non mi prendo sul serio così e non mi faccio l'illusione di essere tanto importante! La poesia sopra è una parodia di questo.

Well, folks, when things are like this, there is only one thing a girl can do: eat some comforting risotto, have a g&t, then go to bed and hug her doggie! [Simi agrees and has just pointed out that that's three things!]

Monday, March 03, 2008


There are few greater pleasures for me here in Sicily than being at home during the lunchtime and cooking up a good, creamy risotto whilst imagining the scene in the other kitchens of my street, where the women will be embarking upon a similar task. My kindly neighbours are always very concerned about whether I will cook pasta at one o'clock and if I meet any of them just before this time, they will ask if I am going to make un buon piatto di pasta. I reassure them that this is, indeed, the case and they proceed happily on their way, knowing that the world is not going to end [well, not this lunchtime, anyway].

As there are still some slices of pumpkin to be found in the shops, today I decided to make a risotto di zucca. I usually follow Carluccio's recipe as I like the addition of garlic and rosemary that he suggests. I rather unconventionally went a bit Milanese today and added saffron as I wanted it to be yellower. As I've said before, the secret of cooking a good risotto is to go away and have a drink while the rice absorbs the stock or water; then add more liquid to both your glass and the pan and repeat the process. The other secret is to add a goodly dollop of butter off the heat at the end.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


If you have not already done so, do take a look at the jollifications regarding readers’ nightwear on James’s site: the “parade” really cheered me up and now it has got me thinking not only of what I wear in bed [perfume] but of what I keep beside my bed and how this has changed since I came to Sicily. Here is the list:

Mobile [which also serves as an alarm clock].
List of phone numbers of the “army of men” [all neighbours] who have instructed me not to hesitate to call them if I am disturbed like this again. [Not that the numbers aren’t keyed in; it’s just that in an emergency it can be as quick to look at a piece of paper and dial a number as to find it in the rubrica.] Mine is the last generation that can remember not having a mobile and it does make me feel more secure at night; there was always the fear, before, that someone intent on evil could cut the landline wires.
Foot cream. [Well, where else can you put it on but sitting on the bed? If you apply it in the bathroom you will slip on the way to the bedroom!]
Mineral water in one of those carafes with a conical thingie in the middle for ice. [You’re either a night-time drinker or you’re not and I always have been, though I suspect all of you would be during a Sicilian summer! In Britain I’d have the mineral water there but the ice wouldn’t be necessary.]
Asthma inhaler [which I rarely need to use since coming here].
Reading matter and one of those mini-lights you can clip to the book [for having even a bedside lamp on during the summer just makes it hotter].
A notebook for blog inspiration that comes in the night [as it will] and for shopping list additions I think of at 3 am!
A large torch in case of an electricity cut or – heaven forbid – an earthquake. [Regular readers may recall that I put the last early hours tremor down to amorous activity in the flat above!]
Handbag on the floor: a girl may have to do emergency make-up repairs during the night sometimes, you know and it is also there in case I have to scarper because of a quake. I’ve a pair of pull-on trousers and a top nearby for the same reason and also in case the water lorry turns up at an unearthly hour [it did so at 06.50 once] and we have to go down to sign.
In summer I rig up a fan by the bed but usually finish the night off on the sofa in the lounge, dozing under the air conditioner. [A student told me the other day that he sleeps on the floor in summer but I would surely bash my head on the tiles and be no more if I tried that.]

Simi’s bed [one of the three she has] is on the other side of mine but usually she sleeps on top of me so is not disturbed by any of this paraphernalia.

What’s your bedside list?

Saturday, March 01, 2008


There were Welshcakes for everybody at Modica's English International School this morning. Students learnt about St David's Day traditions and joined in the singing of "We'll Keep a Welcome". Pictured above are Catherine, the owner [first photo, far right] and Paola, the Italian teacher and administrator, next to her, with students. And there is "Welshcakes" herself with students in the second photo.

Courses currently offered by the School include:
English Language courses at all levels for adults and children
English for Special Purposes [Business, Medical and Legal English; English for Banking; English for Travel and Tourism]
Intensive revision courses for Italian high school students [corsi di recupero]
Preparation courses for Italian Maturità and University Entrance examinations
Preparation for University examinations and consultation services for degree theses
Computer courses

The School also offers translation and interpreting services.

If you would like to combine a trip to beautiful Sicily with an Italian language course, the School can arrange this for you.

Please contact the School at for further information on all courses and services.

Shirley Bassey -We'll keep a welcome in the hillside

Per i miei studenti - and for all in the Welsh diaspora who feel a little nostalgic today.


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