Thursday, December 31, 2009


This is an article of mine which was published in Italy Magazine on December 22nd:


Italy has been famous for its calendars ever since the publication [by the company’s UK subsidiary]of the first Pirelli Calendar in 1964. Whatever the shortcomings of the tyre company’s calendar with regard to political correctness, ageism is not one of them, for it famously included the then 72-year-old Sophia Loren in 2007.

Today we would like to tell you about two Italian calendars that you may not have heard of:

Fifty women of all ages and sizes have posed for the Curve d’Autore Calendar 2010. This calendar is produced by Donna Donna Onlus, a non-governmental organisation founded in Rome in 2008 to help women who have difficulty in accepting themselves as they are, in particular those suffering from eating disorders. Bulimia and anorexia are the main causes of death in females aged 12 – 25 in Italy and eating disorders affect 200,000 Italian women.

The aim of the calendar is to negate stereotypical ideas of feminine beauty and to increase awareness of eating disorders. The photographer Gerald Bruneau took pictures of students, artists, housewives and professional women whose bodies are tastefully draped in red velvet. Each page of the calendar tells women, “Tu sei Bellezza” [“You are beautiful”].

The calendar will be distributed free of charge from now until January 6th as part of the solidarity demonstration, Roma Insieme. It represents the first stage in the campaign, Uniti contro i disturbi alimentari [United against eating disorders] which has the support of the Italian Ministry of Equal Opportunities.

The second calendar is the Calendario dei Carabinieri 2010. The Carabinieri Calendar is in its eighty-second edition and was presented in Rome on December 1st. Previous Carabinieri calendars have become collectors’ items and this year 1 million, 350,000 copies have been printed, all of which are now sold out, according to various websites.

The theme of this year’s calendar is the swearing-in ceremony, “the most demanding and solemn act the uniformed men and women will carry out during their career” over the almost two centuries of the corps’ history. The calendar also remembers all the Carabinieri who have served loyally and faithfully in times of war and of peace.

You can view images from the Carabinieri Calendar here.

UPDATE: Last week a student of mine who is a Carabinieri officer brought me the 2010 calendar as a gift. I am delighted to have it and it is a very impressive publication:


You might as well enjoy it because....

The Beverley Sisters - It's Illegal, it's Immoral or it Makes You Fat


Here's Lucy again:

Lucy and Viv at New Year

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Rosa and her husband had to go to Albania to see a sick relative before Christmas and then, because of a rough sea, could not get back to Italy in time to spend Christmas Day with their children [who stayed with their aunt]. I think we can all imagine how stressful and disappointing that was for them.

However, Rosa was in good spirits when she came to see Simi and me yesterday morning and it was like Christmas all over again: I shall treasure these intricately carved ornaments and the one on the right represents a çiftelia instrument and a sheep, a symbol of good luck in Albania. Rosa tells me that my good fortune will be assured if I fall asleep looking at the object so I have placed it beside my bed and am now full of hope for the New Year.

Then, when I tasted this Albanian dessert, I thought I had gone to heaven. It is called tulumba and consists of fried pastries in syrup - but what a syrup, reader!

Thank you, dear Rosa and family. I hope you have a wonderful New Year's Eve together and that you have the happiest of new years.


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the fact that the two palm trees in front of the Sacro Cuore Church here in Modica have been infected by the red palm weevil and have to be cut down. This is how the entrance to the Church now looks.


I like the wrapper designs for these bars of pure Modican chocolate which are wittily named "iMod":

Monday, December 28, 2009


This is an article of mine which was published in Italy Magazine today. I thought you might enjoy it:

Imagine the scene: it is Christmas Eve, you’ve had a busy day at work, you’ve come home, cooked and finally put your two excited toddlers to bed. Wearily you trudge down to your apartment block’s basement, where each tenant has a storeroom, to retrieve the gifts which you have hidden there – and they have gone. Yes, some heartless thief has taken the Christmas gifts which you worked so hard to buy for your children. What would you do?

In Alpignano [Torino] the victim of the burglary frantically drove around her town in the hope of finding an open store but the only places still trading at that hour were the all-night petrol stations. She desperately looked for gifts in the shop attached to each one, until, at nearly 4 am, she met a Carabinieri patrol and was able to explain the situation to the officers. They reported it to their captain, who, imagining the disappointment that would be written on the children’s faces a few hours later, decided to help the mother. He said that he would have hidden the toys in the basement storeroom, too.

The Carabinieri captain called the owner of a toyshop in nearby Giaveno and the shopkeeper agreed to come and open his store. Thus, although the thief has yet to be apprehended, two little girls of three and a half and two and a half had a happy Christmas morning after all.

UPDATE: The story reminds me of a song which doesn't seem to be played much any more. Here's the great Jim Reeves:

Jim Reeves - Scarlet Ribbons

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I got the idea for this recipe from a magazine and adapted it a bit. It made a successful Christmas dessert on two occasions:

You will need to purchase a sponge cake base of the sort that you can split into 2 or 3 layers. Separate the layers and sprinkle some Limoncello or other lemon liqueur over them but do not sprinkle any on the top. Now make up a lemon cream: in Italy you can buy powdered crema pasticcera [confectioner's custard] so I just made up a pack and a half of this according to the instructions and added the grated peel of a large lemon. [Use an unwaxed one if you can.] If you cannot buy crema pasticcera you could make some lemon butter filling or just add some grated lemon peel to whipped cream. Spread the filling over the layers [not the top] and reassemble the cake. Now cut another lemon into slices and put these on the hob in a non-stick frying pan with 6 teasp sugar. Heat until caramelised, watching it carefully. When they have cooled a little, use the lemon slices to decorate the cake. Put the cake in the fridge for an hour or two. When you are ready to serve, sieve some icing sugar over the top, using a doily or greaseproof -paper templates to make a pattern if you wish. [I used Christmas cookie cutters.]

On Christmas morning I was out of lemons so the second cake became an orange one. Use the same procedure but moisten the layers with Cointreau or a similar liqueur. Add a little fresh orange juice to the filling as well as the grated peel:

Slice and enjoy!

Saturday, December 26, 2009


It had to come, folks, and here it is!

At Raffaele's on Thursday there were these treats on offer - and yes, I was servita after minimal waiting this time!

Later on Christmas Eve I was invited to eat focacce with Irma and family.

Irma made this lovely table decoration.

Focacce are traditional on Christmas Eve in Sicily and Irma, like most Sicilian women, makes her own:

This one is filled with patacche [or topinambur in dialect] which are Jerusalem artichokes:

This one is filled with sausage

and the middle one here with ricotta:

[cauliflower] is the most traditional filling for the vigilia:

This one has a meat filling, though some Sicilian families do not eat meat on Christmas Eve:

My contribution to the feast was my "quickest-ever lemon cake" and I'll be posting the recipe later or tomorrow!

Irma had made cobaita

and a friend had made and brought her these wonderful biscuits the day before. [Irma must have more will-power than me as she'd kept them!]

Grazie per la bella festa, Irma!

OK, Christmas Day at 1pm and it's off to Gina's mother-in-law's home for another feast!

Just look at this pretty presentation of the antipasti

and then there was a surprise as the pasta was served al cartoccio:

After that there was spicy sausage

and fennel salad

and polpettone made by Gina

followed by a dish of meltingly tender pork

served with a green salad and an aubergine salad:

My "quickest-ever lemon cake" became a "quickest-ever orange cake" as I'd run out of lemons

and then there was my favourite Sicilian dessert, gel al limone:

And to finish there was mouthwatering fruit:

I must tell you that only in Sicily would the men, during Christmas lunch, have a jolly conversation about which cemetery plots they had purchased and only in Sicily would two women produce a meal like that and, when thanked, shrug their shoulders and say,

"Oh, it was just a family meal - nothing special."

Grazie, Gina e grazie alla signora!

Friday, December 25, 2009


This is an article of mine which was published in Italy Magazine on Wednesday. I have found something good to say about the Post Office!

A special letterbox has been set up in the post office in Rome’s Piazza San Silvestro for children to post their letters to Father Christmas and Poste italiane estimates that our red-coated, white-bearded friend will receive around 130,000 letters from children in Italy this year. Each child who posts a letter in the box will receive a personal reply from one of the postini di Babbo Natale [Father Christmas’s postmen] together with a sticker and a colouring book.

The letters, addressed to destinations such as “Father Christmas’s Ministry” – perhaps a politician’s son wrote that one – Via del Polo Nord, Via delle Stelle [Star Street] or Via Lattea [the Milky Way] express the various desires of children in the twenty-first century [which do not seem so very different from the desires of children in the twentieth or even the nineteenth century]: Some want a bike, others a horse, one wants a whole wild boar for his family to consume at Christmas lunch [he didn’t say whether he wants it ready-cooked] whilst more pensive young souls ask for peace, love or good health and the more practical for a million-euro lottery win.

This is not the first year that Poste italiane has replied to children’s letters to Santa and now it has published a book containing some of the best Santa letters of recent years. Proceeds will go to the non-governmental charity Amici dei Bambini [AiBi] which has been working, since 1986, to defend the rights of abandoned children to be brought up in a family environment. AiBi works in Italy and in 26 other countries as far apart as Eastern Europe and the Americas. The book, called Io ci credo che esisti [I Believe you Exist] is available in post offices, on the internet at

and on the AiBi site. In addition to the children’s letters the book contains a previously unpublished story and illustrations by the children’s writer Chiara Rapaccini.

Traditionally it is the Befana [a good witch] who brings children small presents on January 6th in Italy but now a lot of families use the Father Christmas tradition as well. Do you think this is a good idea or does it make an Italian Christmas less special?
UPDATE: 25.12.09
Since writing the article I have seen the book and the letter that touched me most contains this wish:
"Vorrei che tu andassi a salutare e a fare felice ogni terremotato che non ha niente ed ha perso i genitori..." "I want you to go and see and bring happiness to every child who lost their possessions and their parents in the earthquake..."


Kind Lucia was scandalised that I didn't have a crib with figurines based on Sicilian characters so she brought me a base, a fire and some figurines and animals to start me off. I added a Holy Family.


"Merry Christmas, fans!" from Simi xx woof!


Enjoy Italy's favourite carol sung by the only singer likely to succeed Pavarotti in Italians' affections:

Andrea Bocelli - Tu scendi dalle stelle

Buon Natale a tutti!

Welshcakes e Simone xx woof!


Thursday, December 24, 2009


I'll let the Queen of Comedy convey the magic of Christmas Eve:

I Love Lucy - Christmas [1951]

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


This is an article of mine which was published in Italy Magazine yesterday. I thought you might enjoy it:


Poking your tongue out in order to insult someone became a crime in Italy on Friday when the Cassazione, Italy’s highest Court of Appeal, upheld a farmer’s conviction for doing so.

Last year the farmer, Carlo O…. from Fabriano [Marche] walked into a field belonging to a neighbour with whom he had often quarrelled and poked his tongue out at him. Unfortunately for Mr O his neighbour immortalised the moment with a camera phone and then took this evidence to a Justice of the Peace who ordered Mr O to pay compensation. At the appeal hearing Mr O said that the gesture was a “grimace” but the Court held that it was an insult. Now that his appeal has been turned down Mr O will have to pay his neighbour’s legal costs of 1,300 euros as well as damages. The amount will have to be decided in another, civil court process. Mr O’s criminal penalty has not been made public.

Italy has strict laws regarding “insult” which, under Article 594 of the Penal Code, is often seen as a slur on the victim’s dignity or honour. It is punishable by six months’ imprisonment plus a fine of up to 516 euros. In cases that amount to a slander committed in front of many people the penalties can be doubled. Under Friday’s ruling poking your tongue out or sneering at someone are regarded as offences to their honour.

Albert Einstein might have to be careful if he were in Italy at the moment.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


A wonderful Christmas supper last night with the Italy Magazine team and Katia from loveSicily. Don't you like Katia's pretty and festive table centre?

First there were antipasti of two kinds of salame plus salsciccia and two kinds of cheese

and this unusual combination of warm bread topped with a little honey and lardo [a type of bacon]:

Then there was pasta alle noci [pasta with walnuts]

followed by a roast of lonza [pork loin] with organic oranges

served with a radicchio and orange salad:

Finally there was, of course, spumante and lots of pandoro and panettone plus a delicious torta filled with ricotta:

Grazie, Katia e grazie, ragazzi!


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