Wednesday, July 30, 2008


This is the simplest dish to serve as an antipasto or contorno and my friend Gina first introduced me to it: all you do is take some oranges, peel and cut them in the Sicilian way [a slice off the bottom, a slice off the top, then cut the peel and pith off by directing your knife around the inner part of the orange. Then segment it by cutting downwards.] Put the slices in a bowl and chill. When ready to serve, grind some black pepper over [add salt if you like] and drizzle with olive oil. Gina sometimes adds chopped red onion to her orange salad and some friends like to add olives. I prefer to use just oranges, and if you can mix "orange" oranges and Sicilian blood oranges you will have a very pretty dish indeed to present. This salad can also be served between courses to clear the palate.

I don't have a picture to show you as I just scoffed the lot!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Here is some focaccia bread that I made this afternoon. The last time I posted this recipe [a couple of years ago] I didn't have a picture to show you, so that's my excuse for reposting it here. This recipe will work with British bread flour and easy-blend yeast.

Tomato and Onion Focaccia
8oz strong white flour [you can use plain flour but the texture will be crisper]
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
pinch sugar
warm water [start with c. 5 fl. oz but you may have to add more]
1 egg yolk
5 tablesp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
handful fresh basil leaves, torn
rosemary sprigs
coarse seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the flour, yeast, egg yolk, sugar, 2 tablesp of the oil and as much warm water as you need to form a dough into a food processor bowl and process till the dough comes together. Oil the bottom of a glass or plastic bowl and put the ball of dough in, covering the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour. Meanwhile, fry the onion in another 2 tablesp of the oil until it is transparent but not brown. Let it cool. When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 180 C / gas 4 and oil a baking tray. Roll out the dough fairly thinly; you want it about the width and length of the tray. Lift it onto the tray - the only way to do this is quickly! - in such a way that half of it is on the tray and half is protruding onto your work surface. Spread the onion onto the dough on the tray, then spread the tomatoes on top. Season. Scatter the basil leaves over. Fold the rest of the dough over the filling. Dampen the edges and press to seal well. Brush the top with the last tablesp of oil and prick all over with a fork. Sprinkle with coarse seasalt and rosemary sprigs. Bake for c. 35 minutes. Cut into squares and serve hot or cold. [It is best made not too far in advance.]

Monday, July 28, 2008


Angry immigrants today occupied the Cathedral in Naples after spending three nights on the street following a fire which had forced them to leave their homes. Their main grievance was that they believed that Italian citizens who had also been affected were offered decent alternative housing immediately.

It seems that the immigrants were initially waiting to see a member of the Catholic Curia but the trouble started at around 12.30 pm when they were asked to leave, as that is the time when the Cathedral closes for the afternoon. At that point, the immigrants lay down on the pews. Many of them were terrified of being identified because their documents were not in order.

Then things got ugly and scuffles broke out. Three arrests were made and one man was treated for cuts and bruises. The immigrants’ cause was supported by several groups, including Italy’s No Global.

This incident raises so many questions, many of them uncomfortable ones: Does a country have a right, or even a duty, to look after its own citizens first? On the other hand, surely everyone has a right to be treated with some human dignity? What would any of us do if we suddenly found ourselves homeless through no fault of our own? And if you are seeking a little compassion when you most need it , is it unreasonable to suppose that you might find it in a church?

Sunday, July 27, 2008


The State of Emergency regarding illegal immigration previously applying only to Sicily, Puglia and Calabria was extended to the whole of Italy on Friday. In addition, some very tough measures were introduced by the Italian Parliament last week, among them jail sentences up to a third longer than those handed down to Italians for illegal immigrants convicted of a crime. Property rented to such immigrants can now be confiscated, too. The opposition Senator Anna Finocchiaro has said that these latter measures are contrary to the “principle of equality” laid down in the Italian Constitution, whilst the Vatican reminds the government of human rights and points out that linking crime to immigration in people’s minds could encourage racism.

Roberto Maroni, the Interior minister, must defend the measures before Parliament on Tuesday and he states that the number of clandestini who have landed in Italy in the first half of this year is double that for the same period in 2007. A Médecins sans Frontières spokesperson meanwhile puts the figure at 30% more.

Despite all this, 350 clandestini landed on Saturday, 227 of them at Lampedusa. The police are currently investigating the case of 2 Nigerian children, aged 2 and 4, who died during the journey. Their father says that he threw their bodies overboard but questioning continues. Such vulnerable victims of a terrible situation: may they rest in peace, whatever happened.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Here are the lovely staff of the Caffè Consorzio along with some photos of the delicious fare they serve:

Today James had chicken fillet wih roasted vegetbles whilst I chose tagliata [a thick cut] of veal with tortino of roasted vegetables. Our usual fruit and ice cream to finish and we were replete.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I got this recipe from the gambero rosso TV channel last week and today I decided to try it out for lunch. It was a success!

You need:
about 20 cherry tomatoes
some pistacchi and pumpkin seeds
a small dried chilli pepper
2 unpeeled garlic cloves
olive oil
basil and mint leaves
250 gr egg tagliatelle

Here's what you do:
Slice the cherry tomatoes as best you can.
Heat a scant tablespoon of olive oil in a pan deep enough to eventually take the pasta, too.
Add the tomatoes to the pan with the crushed chilli pepper [I used my beloved chilli spray instead] garlic and a good handful of basil and mint leaves.
Stir it all around and let it cook slowly.
When the aroma is absolutely heavenly, the tomatoes have softened and the garlic has more or less melted into them [10 minutes or so] turn off the heat.
Now cook the pasta according to the instructions on the pack.
Meanwhile, pound some pistacchio nuts and pumpkin seeds in a mortar. [I didn't have any of the latter and dislike them anyway, so used just pistacchi.] You can grind them in a processor instead but be careful not to overdo it.
Spread the base of a serving dish with some of the ground mixture and more basil and mint leaves.
Drain the pasta, put the pan with the tomatoes in back on the heat and add the pasta to it. Turn it all over a few times and when you think everything is warm again, spoon the lot into the serving dish. Decorate with the rest of the pistacchi mixture and more basil and mint leaves.

Buon pranzo!


The objects in last night's post are called cavagne and they were used as containers for freshly-made ricotta so that mice could not get at the cheese. [A mettle lid would be screwed onto the bottom of the filled containers.]

Here is this evening's quiz:

T- - - - - - . The sweetest melons come from this province.

R Punta - - - - - , Palermo's airport.

A- - - - - , the month when everything stops or closes, causing this blogger to despair. It is the "silly season" in Sicily!

P- - - - - - - - - - . The best salted capers come from here.

A- - - - - - - - - , small town in Messina province whose name means "sweet waters".

N Pasta alla - - - - - , a Catania dish inspired by one of Bellini's operas.

I- - Hamdis, Sicilian Arab poet who was forced into exile after the Norman conquest of Sicily.

Highlight below for answers:

Trapani; Raisi; agosto/August; Pantelleria; Acquedolci; Norma; Ibn

Thursday, July 24, 2008


A "What?" rather than a "Where?" for you to work out this week: what are these called and what would they have been used for? [Yes, I've mentioned them on the blog several times before!]

Answer on tomorrow's post.


It’s a funny sort of day, Thursday: not at the beginning of the week, like Monday, when we all feel justified in grumbling about returning to work, not like Tuesday, when we can at least convince ourselves that we are getting into the swing of things; and certainly not like Wednesday, when we can congratulate ourselves on getting half-way through the week. And, of course, it cannot compete with Friday, when everybody is demob-happy. No, none of these; just Thursday, stuck where it is.

Even the name, in English, sounds dull: “Thor’s Day”, making one imagine bad weather. At least the Romance languages have named it after Jupiter or Jove, the chief deity , which sounds more exciting.

Perhaps it is the thought of distant rumbles of thunder that caused me to associate Thursdays with unlucky events: I was a bit of a goody-goody at school, you see, and got told off at primary school for the very first time on a Thursday! When I was younger still, Thursday was Rag, Tag and Bobtail day on the BBC’s Watch with Mother ; now, no offence to those dear rabbits, but they were rather boring! On a Monday you could get irritated at being patronised by Patricia Driscoll and her endless Picture Book and on Fridays there were the delightful Woodentops [just like The Archers, but for children, really!]

So what, then, of Thursdays in Sicily? Sackerson observed in the comments the other day that we have a “hard life” down here in Sicily and I can see that some of you may think I have the “life of Riley”: yet my life, and James’s, are difficult in ways that many of you may not imagine, for who among us can really envisage another person’s day to day life?

Well, Thursday being Thursday, I did a job I have been putting off for some time and wrote to a UK banking institution. [I am in deep sympathy with Posh Totty here.] Then, as antidote to this horrible task, James and I meandred to the Altro Posto, where we had the delicious fruit and ice cream you see above.

Later, my 4 pm student did not turn up. [No, I do not get paid for the waiting time!] James waited with me till 4.30 , then we wandered back home, just having to stop at yet another bar on the way for some refreshing cold tea with granita.

A hard life, indeed!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Found these oven-ready at the butcher's this morning and they looked so pretty that I just had to try them! [Tomatoes neatly stuffed with minced pork, topped with zucchini and tiny cherry tomatoes.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Emilio Pericoli was, I believe, the first Italian popular singer I ever heard, long before I studied Italian or realised that the country would become the love of my life and teaching the language [along with French] my means of making a living for so long!

I still have some 45 rpm records and a vinyl LP of Pericoli and I thought he was so handsome and sophisticated. I used to imagine him zooming around Rome on a Vespa in those innocent days, before tourists had to watch out for bag-snatchers and pickpockets in every crowded location. Yes, as a follow-up to last night's post, I do have to say that there are places where you have to be careful here, too, just as you would in big cities anywhere in the world.

But enough of that. Here, for your enjoyment, is Emilio:

Monday, July 21, 2008


Proposals in the UK to ban or curb "happy hour" alcohol sales are being reported with some surprise in Italy: first there is an explanation of what the "happy hour" actually is and this is followed by statistics on the behaviour of alcohol-fuelled British youth which would dismay any Italian parent thinking of allowing their offspring to visit our country.
Incidentally, the one negative aspect of the UK mentioned by one of Marco's sons [just back from a long stay there] at yesterday's lunch was that he felt threatened by crowds of hostile youths in city centres in Britain during the evenings. What a testimonial for us!
It may not seem so, but most Italians drink very little, limiting themselves to a glass or two of good wine at lunchtime [maybe a little more on a Sunday or feast day, when they don't have to drive afterwards or go to work the next morning] and spirits are rarely drunk, except for a tot of the homemade limoncello at the end of a long, leisurely repast. [However, see here for evidence that this is not always the case.]
Being very much a g & t girl myself, I am hardly in a position to pontificate, but I don't drive and what Mutley calls my "terrifying liqueurs" are rationed for home use these days!

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I am not a morning person at all but was delighted when the phone rang at 9.30 am today and my friend Giovanna invited James and me to spend the day with her and her family at their seaside house.

Newer readers may like to know that Giovanna, her husband Marco and the two boys they then had [aged about ten and eight at the time] were the first Modicani I ever met: I have stayed with them all many times and they let me live rent-free in a little house of theirs in Modica Bassa whilst I was sorting myself out after moving here permanently in 2005. So I owe them a great deal. Now there are four boys and the elder two have grown into fine young men.

After the phone call it was all rush, as I hadn't yet showered, got my war paint on [let alone my clothes] or taken Simi out. I accomplished the lot within 45 minutes, informed poor James, just as he returned from his "morning constitutional" [which he relies upon to recharge his batteries - shush!] about the intended outing and by 10.30 we were on our way to the Marina di Modica.

Today the Mediterranean was at its deepest blue, with the waves turning purple as they neared the jagged rocks of the stunningly beautiful shore.

At 1pm precisely, like all good Italians, back we went to Giovanna and Marco's for lunch: there was pasta with prawns and zucchini, polpettine di melanzane [aubergine fritters] with cheese-topped tomatoes followed by cotolette di pollo [chicken cutlets] then Giovanna's fresh fruit salad for dessert, served with lemon ice cream and peach granita.

James then had a snooze on the balcony whilst I reminisced with the family until about 4pm, when we were served dishes of the freshest gelsi [mulberries] with cream.

Un bel giorno al mare!

Saturday, July 19, 2008


This morning a letter arrived by recorded delivery: I opened it to discover that I am "invited" to pay 25 euros to the Azienda Sanitaria for the visit I made to Casualty [ER] in May. It is normal to pay for such a visit here and you also have to pay a nominal sum for outpatient appointments. I should point out that there would be no question of paying a fee if you were rushed to Casualty following an accident or other emergency and / or were subsequently admitted. I have no objection to paying this charge as I am grateful to be covered by the Italian health service at all, but I do wonder how much money is being spent on sending all such letters out by recorded delivery.

On my way out today I did the very thing that drives me crazy when I see the Italians doing it: I queue-jumped, reader! Yes, I ignored the ticket system in the post office and marched up to the counter to ask for a form for a recorded delivery letter of my own. This was duly handed to me despite the customer already at the counter, the notices about respecting customer privacy and all the people sitting waiting for their number to appear on the display boards. No one batted an eyelid but the Brit in me felt ashamed!

As I write, we are waiting for the water lorry yet again. I phoned the Comune to order a refill on Wednesday and I'm sure we are about to run out.

Saturdays seem to be Caffè Consorzio day, so yet another relaxing lunch was enjoyed there: interesting antipasti, a salad of radicchio, rocket, pear and grana cheese plus this beautifully presented ice cream:

Finally, there are worse places to be on a Saturday afternoon than sitting under a palm tree waiting for a friend. [A shame about the graffiti but you can't have everything.]

Friday, July 18, 2008


Last night's photo was taken on the road between Modica and Ragusa.

Now to tonight's quiz:

C Second city of Sicily

A Bitter - - - - - - - , book about the making of Sicilian pastries by Mary Taylor Simeti and Maria Grammatico.

T We live in fear of one of these: un - - - - - - - - - .

A Costanza d' - - - - - - - - - , daughter of Roger 11 of Sicily, later Queen of Sicily and Empress.

N City in south-east Sicily almost totally destroyed in the 1693 earthquake.

I Ancient Himera.

A Piazza - - - - - - - - , hilltop town south of Enna famous for its Roman mosaics.

Highlight below for answers:

Catania; Almonds; terremoto; Altavilla; Noto; Imera; Armerina.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


A more difficult one for you tonight!

As it's the 17th of the month, an unlucky day for superstitious Italians, I'll be kind and give you a clue: it's on the road between Modica and - - - - - - [not too far away].

Answer on tomorrow's post.


Strangely enough, thinking back to Sunday's post, a similar thing happened today in class: we were dealing with before/after + - ing clauses and the last one in the exercise was:
Remember to lock the door / put the rubbish out
which had to be transformed into "Remember to lock the door after putting the rubbish out."

The problem here is that, even after helping the student to deal with the phrasal verb "put out" in this context and the fact that the object comes between verb and preposition, a student from here still has no concept of the meaning as no one "puts their rubbish out" [as in a bin, provided by your local council and which you place outside your door or gate once a week or fortnight in the UK]. Here, you carry your rubbish along to conveniently placed communal bins. No one has to walk far to do this and recycling bins are conveniently located, too.

So "cultural leaping" can be on a very mundane level!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


And only in Sicily, I suspect, could there be a festino to celebrate saving and austerity, with the main float bearing a statue of Santa Rosalia resting upon a bed of 30, 000 roses [minus their thorns - the lady had to be comfortable]. The second float was decorated with Swarovski crystals and there was also a fine fireworks display. This all happened in Palermo yesterday.

All was not entirely peaceful, however, as there were some anti-mayoral demonstrations and some protests by groups representing the homeless.

Viva l'austerità!

Monday, July 14, 2008


You don’t know how much you have needed a facial, ladies, until you have had one!

At the weekend I was explaining to James some of the complications of being a woman , particularly in summer [not that I really think that he, being a man of the world, needs instruction from me!] It’s just that women spend the summer worrying about the constant depilation problem, whether parts of us look bronzed enough to be shown in any circumstances [and some put themselves at tremendous risk over this] and of course, a girl dare not step outside without checking the shade of varnish on her toenails. I was also trying to get him to see [well, not “see” literally – I mean “understand” ] that all this takes logistics: I mean, it is best, is it not, if varnishing your toenails first thing in the morning, to have donned certain items of underwear first?

I had decided on Friday that I could no longer wait for the following:
a waxing job on my jawline
a pedicure
a full facial
an eyebrow shaping

There are many beauty salons here - in fact I can think of six within walking distance – but in Modica as in the UK, many will not wax part of your face and do a facial treatment on the same day. I appreciate the reasons why but I do not want to walk home in the hot sun after a facial waxing treatment and it is an extra bother to go back a day later for the facial itself.

It so happens that Raffaele the hairdresser has a new manicurist who will come to the house to carry out more complex procedures, so I’d made an appointment for today. In two and a half hours and for forty euros I had all the above treatments carried out, efficiently, calmly and painlessly. [She did ask, as every beautician I have ever visited has, “Why do you need the jawline done? There is nothing there!” I replied, as ever, “I know there’s some hair there and you can see it in certain lighting.”] Simi, I hasten to add, was a very good doggie-girl whilst observing all this!

Oh, there is nothing like having your feet “done”, reader, and the sensation is topped only by the way your make-up just glides on after a facial! So I am sitting here thinking that if all this can make me feel so much better, and I can only afford such an indulgence occasionally, how wonderful you must feel if you can have such treatments every day! No wonder the rich and famous [usually] look so good, even allowing for airbrushing! No, I am not fool enough to imagine that even those who claim they have had “no knife” look that brilliant on cosmetics alone and it is one of the tragedies of our era that women, because of the images pushed at them all the time, will subject themselves to invasive and non-essential surgery because of this eternal quest for youthful looks. [This is to the older woman, perhaps, what thinness is to her younger counterpart.]

But I have digressed: I will say again that I now feel better and, dear gentlemen readers, I am sorry if I have bored you but at least you now know that a woman always needs to get her knickers on before varnishing her toenails!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


As a language teacher, I am often asked what is the “best” method of learning a foreign language and, as someone who went through 23 years of changes in the accepted view in the British state school system, I have to say that there is no one failsafe method: you have to combine several , keep an open mind and be able to make connections between different languages.

What will not work, in my opinion , are these so-called “this is how to train your memory” methods that are pedalled so often: you know the sort of thing? “Bicyclette is French for bicycle. So picture a great big B in a child’s drawing book, then a great big C and then think of your children begging you to ‘Let me ride it, mummy!' ” What an extraordinary process and how doomed to failure it is! Why not just focus on “bi” indicating two of something and the similarities between English and French? With this sort of approach, whatever is going to happen to you when it comes to grammar?!

And you need grammar – yes, you do! All right, we can teach you to book into the ubiquitous imaginary campsite [as ubiquitous and irrelevant in GCSE oral exams as bulls in French fields were in the written exams of my youth] in as many languages as you like, but it won’t help you if and when things go wrong! Modern foreign languages teachers were not helped, during the reforming 70s and 80s, by English departments that refused to teach grammar [though this was partially put to rights by the National Curriculum in Britain] . “Verbs”, said my own first teacher of French , “are the backbone of the language.” You also need what I like to call grammar patterns, by which I mean that you should acquire the ability to adapt the language you know.

I repeat: ADAPT THE LANGUAGE YOU KNOW. Do not, especially in an exam, try to use unpractised vocabulary or structures, because you risk using them wrongly. In fact, try to use new vocabulary or grammar in sentences as you learn and then let your teacher advise you on appropriate usage.

This brings me to another point: Which is best? In situ or in the classroom? I have to say that you need a mixture of both. Of course you can “pick up” language quickly if you are in the country where it is spoken, but you may be picking up inappropriate registers [using the wrong kind of language for a given situation, an easy example being the minefield of “you” forms in the Romance languages and others] or end up using slang [which I would advise a foreign learner never to do, as it dates so quickly]. Wherever you are, there is always a place for time with a good tutor and some formal instruction.

Never forget, when learning another language, to use a skill which we automatically employ with regard to our own and that is your PREDICTION SKILL. When we listen to someone speaking our mother tongue, we “switch off” our auditory programme and think about something else far more often than we imagine, simply because we are confident and we can guess what filled the gaps. In the learned foreign language, we can’t afford to switch off, but we can put our prediction skills to good use by simply asking ourselves, “What is he / she likely to be saying?” After all, if you walk down the street, meet your best friend and remark, “Lovely weather, isn’t it?”, he / she is hardly going to reply, “I’m worried about the NASDAQ”!

Let go, also, of the idea that you have to understand everything whilst reading or listening: you don’t. Usually it is enough to get the gist and be able to reply in some way. Again, this is largely what we do in our own language.

Do realise that no one is perfect, even in their mother tongue: if they were, and if everyone knew every word, crossword compilers and language game show hosts would not have their jobs, would they? So accept that language is a living thing; it will never stop changing and you will never stop learning. That’s what makes it exciting!

Accept that THINGS ARE EXPRESSED IN A DIFFERENT WAY BUT MEAN THE SAME and you are half-way there. Otherwise you risk speaking the language in a non-idiomatic manner. [This, by the way, is the problem with those online translator things.] And accept that sometimes, just as in English, there is no explanation for the way in which something is expressed: it just is!

Last but certainly not least, try to be a CULTURAL FROG: Recently, during oral exam practice [the exercise was from an actual past paper] , I asked a student of mine what companies could do to relieve employee stress. “Nothing”, he replied. “There is no stress in Sicily.” Now, whether that is true or not is another matter, but his answer hardly helps the oral examiner to ask a follow-up question, does it? “Well,” I went on, “in some UK companies the management has set up a gym for the employees to use at lunchtime. What do you think about that?” “That’s stupid”, replied the student, “because we all go home to our families at lunchtime.” Obviously, the student who at least attempts to make the cultural leap by trying to visualise what life might be like in the target language country will do a lot better here, for a little imagination is always necessary; it is not possible, you see, to divorce the learning of the language from some knowledge of the culture.

So be open, give due attention to grammar , accept that some things are just so, be aware of the the subtleties of register and be a cultural frog whenever you can!

Here endeth Welshcakes Limoncello’s language learning sermon for this Sunday evening.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


A wonderful lunch at the Caffè Consorzio again today and without further ado, I will tell you about the food: a very welcome plate of prettily displayed antipasti, polpettine di salsiccia [most delicately cooked] with patatae al forno and, to finish, this delectable dish of artistically presented fruit and ice cream.

They must have known we were coming today, for the music that wafted across to us, ensconced as we were in the shade of our favourite olive tree, consisted of British hits of the late 1950s and early 60s. As I sat there, watching white butterflies darting in and out of the lavender bushes I pondered upon the passage of time. Later I got some of my vinyl discs out and reflected that one minute you are 12 or 13, listening to these records [as we used to call them] with your life, hopes and dreams ahead of you; in the twinkling of an eye, it seems, you are nearly 60 and there you are listening again and really feeling no different in your heart of hearts. And that, my Dad used to say, is the great secret of growing old.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Last night's picture was of a traditional basket-maker who plies his trade on the steps of the Duomo di San Pietro, here in Modica. Both tourists and locals love him.

Now to tonight's quiz and the first question is not a give-away as usual!

M Sicilian port of embarcation for mainland Italy.

I Small island and nature reserve near Taormina.

L Lemon-flavoured liqueur.

A This blogger's favourite bar [minus article for the grammaticians among you!]

Z Sicilian dessert wine.

Z Summer resort on Etna Nord.

O The only herb [very popular in Sicily] which is best used in its dried form.

Highlight below for answers:

Messina; Isola Bella; limoncello; L' Altro Posto; Zibibbo / Zibobbo ; Zafferana Etnea; origano

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Those who have been following the blog from the beginning may remember!
Answer on tomorrow's post.


You have got to be plum crazy to make chutney during July in Sicily, in 36 C., but that's what I did this afternoon, dear reader. I just had to use up the plums my kind neighbour had given me, so decided the quickest way of doing so was to prepare plum and ginger chutney. [Root ginger, by the way, is quite difficult to find here, so when I do see some on sale, I buy it and freeze it.] For my North American readers and others new to the word, "chutney" is a corruption of Hindi chatni, meaning "strongly spiced". The best way that I can describe chutney is that it is a kind of salsa, only thicker and it keeps for a long time. The British in India invented it as a way of preserving the exotic fruits and using the spices they found there. We eat it with cheese and cold meats. It is quite useless trying to serve chutney to the Sicilians for, as I've mentioned previously, they do not understand how we can mix sweet and sour tastes and many have an aversion to dried fruits.

Whilst I was at it, I also got around to bottling my plum liqueur. I must say I am pleased with its colour and aroma, but it cannot be drunk for at least another month! Tomorrow will be a day for putting the lids on the cooled chutney and placing little gingham "hats" on top of these....

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Imagine my despair when the water appeared to be off yet again this morning [after the 35 euros I’d paid for a lorry load last week!] I just about managed to eke out enough for a shower before it dried up completely, then, on my way out, saw that there were two men working down in the cistern area. One of my mottos is, “When men are working, leave them alone”, so I did. They were, in fact, putting the leak in the tank to rights by replacing the whole thing and I rejoiced about that, but I did wonder how much precious water might be lost in the process. Anyway, upon my return, the water was gleefully gushing from all the taps in the apartment and at the time of writing we still have some.

Earlier I saw my kind and gentle neighbour the “water carrier” and he asked me how I was off for mineral water. [James has been carrying packs of six up the road whenever he can, but this is onerous in the heat, obviously.] The neighbour has just kindly brought us four packs and I am very grateful for this thoughtfulness.

Today I could put it off no longer; a visit to the dreaded post office was necessary. As the place was packed when I went past with Simi on our walk this morning, I decided to try my luck at around 2.30 pm ., when most people have started their siesta: This time, the only seat I could find was not next to one, but between two old souls who were fascinated by the changing numbers on the display board, so I have bruises from being nudged on both sides of my ribcage every time these changed, reader. Another little old lady was darting, at amazing speed, from one counter to the other, insisting on drawing her pension right there and then. Each time her son, who could hardly keep up with her, managed to convince her that she had to wait her turn and gently persuade her to sit down again. No doubt the lady could remember better days.

All of life is here in this very street, dear reader!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


"You bought too much bread!" cried James at the weekend, as I was beginning the preparation of this dish. "Ah, but I have plans for the rest," said I.

Pan bagnat is originally a recipe of Nice and, in that part of the world, is understood to be a salade niçoise on hollowed-out bread. Historically, the process was reversed as the peasants used to put slices of rough-textured bread into the salad to soak up the juices and, one suspects, make it go further. Versions of pan bagnat / pan bagna are made all over the Mediterranean region but the only cookery writer I have read who suggests reusing the breadcrumbs in the filling is Elizabeth David. I like to do this and here is my own, Italianised recipe:

Cut day-old bread [a baguette or smaller crusty rolls] in half lengthwise. Scrape out the crumbs as best you can and put them aside. Make a vinaigrette from 6 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, some oregano and seasoning. Brush this generously onto the bottom part of the bread shells. Spread some crema bel paese [or similar soft cheese] on top of this and put some salad leaves on top of that. Then add some sliced tomatoes. Put the breadcrumbs in a procesor with a clove of garlic, a medium onion, some carrots, a red pepper, a couple of sticks of celery and a few stoned, black olives. Process until everything is very finely chopped. Put this mixture on top of the layers on the bread and drizzle over any remaining vinaigrette. Put the lids on the bread and wrap in foil. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours. [Recipes state that you should put a weight on top but I have never found this necessary.] Serve and enjoy, having armed everyone with plenty of napkins, for this is a very oily sandwich!

Monday, July 07, 2008


According to this Demopolis poll, the majority [77%] of Sicilians are proud of their heritage but, whilst recognising the economic problems of the region, are dissatisfied with the standard of living and with services on the island, above all public transport.
When asked the "eternal question" - "Would you leave?" - most [61%] said they would wish to remain here, whilst 22% said that they would consider living in another part of Italy. Only 17% of those interviewed stated that they would consider living abroad. [What a contrast to Brits!]
It appears that there is a specific Sicilian identity, as the majority of those polled [54%] would declare themselves "Sicilian" before European or even Italian. Interestingly, this figure increases in inverse proportion to educational levels. More women than men would also declare themselves as primarily "Sicilian".
When asked what they believe to be the defining characteristics of Sicilians, 71% put hospitality at number one. In second place comes disdain for rules, regulations and institutions.
Well done, the Sicilians!


Especially for nunyaa, who likes them so much.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


A lovely, leisurely, lazy lunch at the Caffè Consorzio today: antipasti, veal fillet with patate al forno and a glass of ice cream decorated with the juiciest plums and bay leaves picked fresh from the tree. Cincin and buona domenica a tutti.

Friday, July 04, 2008


First of all, the answer to last night's picture question: it is the watchtower at the nature reserve of Vendicari.

Now to tonight's quiz: some incredibly easy and some fiendishly difficult questions for you this time [maybe]:

R Town and province whose patron saint, like that of Modica, is San Giorgio.
- - - - - -

A Prefix to the name of a number of Sicilian Baroque towns taking their name from Acis in Greek mythology. - - -

G Dialect word for a kind of sesame seed brittle made at Xmas.
- - - - - - - - - - - - [Help is here.]

U Volcanic island 36 km north-west of Palermo. - - - - - -

S Famous occasion in 1282 when a French officer insulted a Sicilian bride. This resulted in the massacre of the French garrison.
- - - - - - - - Vespers.

A Greek mathematician and scientist who "found it" in Siracusa.
- - - - - - - - - -

Highlight below for answers:

Ragusa; Aci; ghigghiulena; Ustica; Sicilian; Archimedes

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I made this Stromboli bread for us both today and, remembering that James is not as enamoured as I am of coarse Sicilian seasalt, came up with this compromise - "his half and my half".

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Regular readers will know that this has to be about the Post Office or the water supply and today it's the latter that has driven me to distraction:

Our water ran out at around 11 am but at least we had both had showers and a main wash had gone through the machine. I wasn't too worried, as I had ordered a cistern refill yesterday, but by 5 pm, with a lot of cooking ahead of me, I was beginning to fret.

First I called the usually sympathetic driver, as he will normally bring a tankful a day or so early provided you have made the request to the Water Office. Today, however, he did not seem pleased to hear from me [to put it mildly] and claimed that the last time he had done this [a week ago last Sunday] he had subsequently found out that I hadn't put in the request! [I am not completely mad, reader, and I do know that I had!] So he rather gruffly stated that he could not possibly help me today, as he had no bolleta [authorisation] in his hand.

Next, I went to see the only fellow-tenant in residence at the moment, the lady upstairs. She was almost as upset by the situation as I was, but declared that she is off to her property at the sea tomorrow, so was unwilling to pay a private water carrier.

I then called our capo-condominio [tenant in charge of administrative matters] who, although away in the country until October, had left me her number for just such a purpose. "Ah, signora, there's a problem with the motore in the cistern - that's why the water is running out so quickly", she explained. [Why did I have a sense of "Been here before?"] "I will call the landlords, to see if they have had it fixed. Otherwise there is no point in your calling a private water carrier as the water will just leak out. I'll let you know." This was at 5pm. By 8 pm, I was sitting here suffering from a "Sicilian summer tummy" problem and worrying about the loo arrangements for the night, so decided to call the private water carrier anyway [thinking that if I left it much later he would not come].

No sooner had I made the call, than the capo-condominio was back on the phone, informing me that she had just called the original water carrier to ask him to deliver on a paying basis, which he had agreed to do, but not until tomorrow morning. [The carrier I had called promised to deliver within the hour.] She was not happy when I confessed that I had called the other one and I think I have offended her Sicilian sense of honour: "Signora, why did you call me, then? When I take it upon myself to do something , I do it. Why do you not trust me?" I pleaded desperation, a stomach problem and the fact that it was already past 8pm but it took a lot to mollify her! [James listened to all this and seemed amazed.] Finally I was all apologised-out and the lady very kindly offered to call the first water carrier to cancel the delivery [an offer which I readily accepted].

Not a full minute had passed before we heard the chug-chug-chug of the private water lorry making its way up the street and I dashed down to open up and greet the driver. I am now 35 euros poorer - and it would have been 42 had I insisted upon a receipt - but we have water for the time being and I have only managed to offend 3 people in the process of obtaining it [the capo-condominio, the comune driver and the second driver, for refusing his receipt!]


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