Sunday, February 27, 2011


This was going to be a post about the helpfulness and thoughtfulness of some of this little town's shopkeepers but all I can think of at the moment is how fragile we all are and how little we know about what destiny has in store for us.

The morning after my birthday having dawned fine and sunny, I went, on foot, to the petstore where Simi goes for grooming and where I sometimes buy her food.  It is a fair way from my house and involves walking along a pavementless, busy road, so I don't go there often but that morning the sun encouraged me and I lingered to window-shop along the way.

Once I'd made my purchases, the owner's wife became concerned about my carrying the heavy bag of dogfood back home on foot and suggested that her husband bring it to my flat after the store closed at 1 pm.  I gratefully accepted her offer and, as I lingered to window-shop on the way back too, I arrived home just as the store owner was pulling up outside our courtyard in his van.

We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and he asked after Simone's health, she and he being good friends from her grooming sessions over the years.  As he got back into his van and I was waving to his little boy, he called, "Salutami Simi" ["Say hello to Simi"] and off the two went.

Sadly, there will be no more grooming sessions with our kindly friend for Simi, as yesterday I learned that he died of a heart attack later that same day.  I keep seeing him standing in the courtyard in the sunshine and I can't stop thinking about how happy father and son looked as they drove off for what would be their last lunch together.

I am, of course, thinking of the gentle shopkeeper's family at this time and I don't know what the pets of Modica, whom he cared for so tenderly, are going to do without him.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Roberto Vecchioni's beautiful song may have won the 2011 contest but Italy's best-selling CD at the moment is of this song, which came second:

I like this one, too.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Cold, rainy days in Sicily - yes, there are some - can, paradoxically, be more depressing than cold, rainy days in the UK., perhaps because the sky is still light, making it all seem somehow out of place and perhaps because everyone who is able to do so stays indoors, thus making the streets seem strangely deserted.  In addition, some householders regard it as "giving in" to put the heating on, preferring to wear Michelin-man-style padded jackets in their own homes and, when you do meet people as you go about your errands, there is no British "spirit of the blitz - we're all in this weather together" defiance to draw upon.

On such days, reader, the only sensible thing to do is to go home and make yourself a citrus fruit risotto:

First, chop a white onion finely and cook it gently in 2 tablesp olive oil until transparent.  Now add 350 gr risotto rice and let this cook in the oil for a few minutes too.  Now add 8 tablesp of juice from the freshest Sicilian oranges and grapefruit to the mixture and bring it to simmering point, stirring all the time.  Now start gradually adding 750 ml hot water and stir every now and then.  You need to add a little more of the water every time the rice absorbs the last lot.  This should take about 15 minutes altogether.  Once all the water has been absorbed, add 100 gr grated caciocavallo cheese and stir well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with segments of peeled orange and grapefruit, their grated zest and some chopped parsley.

The cooked rice will comfort you and the zing of the citrus fruit will lift your spirits.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


A belated but much appreciated gift from one of my six-year-old charges this afternoon:

What, I wonder, can be inside this carefully wrapped package?  [You may just be able to see that my name is written on it.]

It contains the sweetest presents ever!

There is a little note, too.  [I have blanked out my young student's surname, for obvious reasons.]

Guess who was the most hugged little boy in Modica today!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Last year cotognata [quince paste] was difficult to find because the quince harvest was poor so I'm glad to be able to report that this year it is plentiful.  It is always an extra pleasure to find it with patterns like this imprinted upon it:

I have tried and failed to find truffle oil in Sicily and it would probably be prohibitively expensive if I did, so I am looking forward to finding out if this "truffle taste" spray will turn out to be a suitable substitute:

Have you ever seen round zucchini? I hadn't, until the other day:

And what a good idea - a cinnamon mill!

Finally, not so much a find as a gift:  What has my friend Lucia been up to lately?  She has been making her own version of Modican chocolate, that's what, and she brought me some at the weekend:

Monday, February 21, 2011


The Trinacria or Triskelion has long been a symbol of Sicily and has featured on the island's flag since 1282.  Most Sicilians believe that the shape represents the three points of the island and the symbol appears on numerous ceramics and other souvenirs.  Now, however, its days on the flag may be numbered, as Sandro Oliveri, the Leader of Palermo Town Council, is to ask the Governor of Sicily to sign a decree which would enable the symbol's removal.  Mr Oliveri and a group of citizens supporting him believe that the symbol is inappropriate, as it is based on mythology rather than Christianity.  They also point out that it is not unique to Sicily, as it features on other flags, most notably, of course, that of the Isle of Man.

Personally I would be sorry to see the Trinacria go and talk of "purification" and "Christianisation"  always worries me, as history shows that "Christianisation" can lead to some very unchristian acts.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


There was no doubt in my mind from the moment I first heard the song, so no apologies for reposting it. I hope you like it as much as I do:

Roberto Vecchioni - Chiamami ancora amore

Saturday, February 19, 2011


The final evening of the 2011 Sanremo Song Festival is about to begin, so I'd better hurry up and tell you about last night's contest:

I was sorry to see these two songs eliminated, as the first is rather charming and the second gives me hope:

Of the songs remaining in the contest, here are three that I like and I'm posting the third especially for my friend Josep:

I think Natalie is a young talent about whom we are going to hear a lot more.  She looked much more relaxed last night, singing her song with L'Aura.

Now, ladies, don't men get on your nerves when they go for women with throaty voices?  Well, they're all crazy for Miss Giusy Ferreri in Italy:

My favourite song remains Vecchioni's Chiamami ancora amore, which I posted on Wednesday. I must say, I don't think the rockified version which Vecchioni performed last night did the composition any favours but I'm still rooting for it.

If Roberto Benigni was Tuesday night's hero, Robert De Niro was last night's for many women when he declared,

"I don't like skinny women".

Morandi, who had the unenviable task of interviewing the somewhat reticent actor, had Elisabetta Canalis on hand as interpreter, but the word "gentrified" defeated her. [Admittedly, it is unlikely to be in her "survival" vocabulary or among the sweet nothings she presumably whispers, in English, to Clooney.] The official interpreter had obviously been told to keep out of it at that point and it was an embarrassing moment. Keep twirling in the clothes, Eli and leave interpreting to the professionals!

I am happy to be able to conclude this post by reporting that, despite the miseryguts and spoilsports in the Lega, the Italian government has at last declared that 17th March, the anniversary of Unification, is to be a holiday and President Napolitano has praised Roberto Benigni for Tuesday night's oration:

"Roberto Benigni found the right words to express our national identity via symbols of the nation, its history and its flag."

Friday, February 18, 2011


The second night of the 2011 Sanremo Song Contest on Wednesday saw two upsets, with both Al Bano and Patty Pravo being eliminated.   I am a fan of Mr Carrisi but even I have to admit that his songs are beginning to sound "samey". However, last night's television vote saw him reinstated, along with this brave attempt by Anna Tatangelo to break the mould:

Hmm - I could make that the theme song of my love life!

Thursday evening at the Festival was, of course, dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification and the celebrations began with Ana Oxa's - err - interesting interpretation of O Sole Mio:

I suppose that could grow on me. What do you think?

Mr Carrisi was back, this time with Giannis Ploutarxos, to sing Va, Pensiero and televotes during this performance raised the most money for charity:

There was a big hand for Tricarico's interpretation of Toto Cutugno's L'italiano, especially when Cutugno joined the younger singer on stage:

And I loved the great Patty Pravo's rendition of Mille lire al mese:

There was a standing ovation for Gianni Morandi when he sang this song by his friend, Gianni Bella, who finished writing it only days before being struck down by a stroke:

But the undisputed hero of the evening was Roberto Benigni, who entered the auditorium in style, on horseback. Benigni  analysed the Italian national anthem, the Inno di Mameli, reminding Italians of its true meaning and calling for unity. He spoke movingly of the role of women and of all the young men who had died so that today's Italians can live in a united, democratic Italy. I especially liked the moment when Benigni wished everyone happiness, counselling us:

Se la felicità scorda di voi, non vi scordate della felicità - If happiness forgets you, don't forget happiness.

He also reminded his listeners that it is the simple things in life which bring true happiness. Finally Benigni asked for the lights to be dimmed and sang the national anthem as a young soldier going into battle the next day might have done in Mameli's time.  Benigni received the second standing ovation of the evening and it was well deserved.

Bravo, Roberto e viva l'Italia!

Late note, 1.3.11: There seem to be copyright issues with the Benigni clips but for the moment they can be seen here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Or veal and almond meatballs:

First, toast 100 gr chopped almonds and soak 300 gr ordinary, white bread with the crusts cut off in enough milk to cover.  After a few minutes, drain the bread and give it a good squeeze with your hands.  Now put the bread in a bowl with 500 gr minced veal or lean minced beef, 100 gr grated caciocavallo cheese, the almonds, 3 teasp sugar, a little ground cinnamon and 1 beaten egg.  Mix it all together well with a fork, then use your hands to form balls, which you put on a plate.  [My meatballs tend to get bigger towards the end of this process!]  Now roll the balls first in a bowl containing 2 beaten eggs and then in pane grattuggiato or fresh breadcrumbs.  Fry in sunflower or groundnut oil in a deep pan or wok till browned all over. You will have to do this in batches.  Lift the meatballs out as they are done and drain on kitchen paper.  They will look like this:

When they are cool enough, you can refrigerate them for a couple of hours to firm up if you have time.  Next you have to cook them for about 45 minutes in simmering homemade tomato sauce or passata.  I did this in 2 batches, in a wok.  As I've now run out of the summer's tomato sauce, I used 2 bottles of passata for each batch and I find that the passata with a texture closest to homemade tomato sauce is De Cecco's Rustica.

These quantities will serve 4 - 6 people.   Serve with salad.  Buon appetito!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


There is something mesmerising about watching the Sanremo Song Festival, which is what I am doing as I write: the stage sets are spectacular, watching the audience is almost as interesting as watching those on the famous Ariston stage and the sponsorship spots are so corny and contrived that they are almost good.

This year's 61st edition has pop legend Gianni Morandi as host, with Elisabetta Canalis - who is displaying quite a comic talent as well as that well-known combination of beauty and Italian style - and the ubiquitous Belén Rodriguez as his assistants.  The dresses, of course, are superb, as is the make-up which I, along with millions of women, have been analysing carefully.  Oh, and the songs aren't bad, either!  This is the one I am rooting for and I have to admit it moves me to tears:

Roberto Vecchioni - Chiamami ancora amore

The Festival gave rise to controversy - as it does almost every year - long before it began, when it was suggested that both the partisan song, Bella Ciao and the fascist anthem, Giovinezza, be sung at tomorrow evening's special celebration of the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification.  Needless to say, this idea caused uproar and few artists were prepared to sing Giovinezza anyway.  In the end, Rai decided that neither song would be sung.  Then there was a furore over the participation of Belén Rodriguez, mainly because of the company the lady had been keeping, but that eventually died down.

Apart from Roberto Vecchioni's wonderful performances of Chiamami ancora amore and last night's Argentinian tango, my favourite moment of the Festival so far has to be the moment, again last night, when Canalis stepped on Belén's gown:  "You're doing it on purpose", said Belén, smiling sweetly, a charge which Canalis denied.  I for one would much rather watch a good catfight than crooning ersatz royals so I live in hope of being entertained by the sight of the two women pulling each other's hair out before the end of the Festival.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Valentine's Night is a night to stay in for many single people, as who, when they are on their own,  wants to tread a restaurant floor covered in rose petals, listen to romantic music or watch couples gazing into each other's eyes all evening? It would be like twisting a knife further into your own wound and it never ceases to amaze me that couples don't get this.

However, it's my birthday and it's been a lovely day in Sicily so I was delighted when my friend Carol invited me to lunch at a restaurant in Pozzallo, a town whose main street backs directly onto the beach.  First, here are a few photos of Pozzallo as it looked this afternoon:

XV century Cabrera Tower

Now I want to introduce you to Carol.  She writes about Sicily and other places where she has lived or which she has visited and you can find some of her articles here.

OK, let's get to the food and these are the dishes we ordered:

Cavatieddi pasta with ricotta and peas for me

and lolli pasta with fava beans for Carol:

Then I had what Italians call a "mixed roast" but is really a mixed grill 

with a mixed salad

while Carol enjoyed chicken cutlet and chips:

There was my favourite gel al limone for dessert and you could just tell that this had been made with the freshest Sicilian lemons:

Simple food, perfectly cooked - the best!

And finally, here is your birthday girl blogger:

I had a great time.  Thanks, Carol. xx

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Image:  Wikimedia Commons

The Italian government has declared a state of emergency on the island of Lampedusa as the situation in North Africa impacts on Sicily and thence on other parts of Italy:  boatload after boatload of people fleeing Tunisia in panic has been arriving on the island since the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali  and 4,000 clandestini arrived between Wednesday morning and Friday night, with Corriere della Sera reporting that a further 977 arrived  between midnight and 9 am on Sunday.

The Cie or Centre for Identification and Expulsion on the island, which had been closed for some time, reopened this afternoon after pressure from UNHCR, among other bodies, though the Cda, the "Welcome Centre" which also carries out health checks, has remained operative.  Officials say that health checks are proceeding efficiently on the island but that identification of all the arrivals is proving difficult.  After being checked, most of the new arrivals are being flown to centres in other parts of Italy where their cases will be assessed and this, of course, is going to be a laborious task.

It is clear that neither Lampedusa nor Italy as a whole should be expected to deal with the situation alone but Italy's call for urgent help from the EU has met with nothing but bureaucratic excuses, with the European Commission putting off discussion of the crisis until a scheduled meeting on 24th February.

While the EU drags its feet, people are dying on the high seas:  an overloaded boat carrying would-be illegal immigrants to Europe split in two in the Gulf of Gabès yesterday, killing one person and injuring another three.  Another passenger is still missing.  It is thought that this boat was taking its cargo of desperate souls to join a larger vessel bound for Lampedusa.

Meanwhile, a young Moroccan street trader set fire to himself in Palermo on Friday after being approached by police for a routine check on his documentation.  Discovering that the young man was trading illegally, although he was in possession of a "permission to stay" document, the police officers set about confiscating his goods.  At that point the man poured petrol over himself and set himself alight before the officers could stop him.  He is now in a critical condition in hospital.  I am willing to bet that the police officers approached him in a non-threatening way and did not confiscate his goods violently but who knows what fears the very approach of police may have reawakened in him? 

My heart goes out to the young trader, whose reaction was, of course, one of desperation and I am thinking tonight not only of those who are risking their lives in a probably futile attempt to enter Europe but of all who try to help them and who have to make decisions regarding their future.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011


This is for all you romantics this weekend:

Rossano - Ti voglio tanto bene

The Three Tenors - Ti voglio tanto bene

Buon San Valentino!

Friday, February 11, 2011


"I'm so proud of our AST buses", remarked a student of mine tonight, referring to the inter-city coaches of the Azienda Siciliana Trasporti:  "They're almost punctual."

And so they are.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Southern Italians have been serving pasta with olive oil and garlic since time immemorial and for the poor it was often the only hot meal of the day.  This is my version for 2 people:

While you cook some spaghetti according to the instructions on the pack, heat 2 tablesp olive oil in a frying pan and fry a whole clove of garlic and a fresh, hot chilli pepper slowly.  Take the garlic and chilli pepper out of the oil when the pasta is cooked and take the frying pan off the heat.  Drain the pasta, dress with the flavoured oil and add the grated zest of a lemon and freshly grated parmesan or caciocavallo cheese as you like.  And if you happen to have chilli-flavoured spaghetti from Calabria, as I have here, the dish will be even more spicy!

As I've said before, there is no elegant way to eat spaghetti so you may as well enjoy it as Julia does here:

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


It's official:  according to research findings published on The Lancet website, Italian women are the most svelte in the EU and rank 63rd in the world for thinness.  Italian men, on the other hand, are 133rd in the world but in the nation as a whole only 10% of people are overweight.

Britain, shamefully, has the highest number of obese inhabitants in the EU but the South Pacific island of Nauru, whose inhabitants have reportedly succumbed to a diet of junk food, has the highest number of obese inhabitants in the world, with 90% of the population being clinically obese.

The thinnest people in the world are those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

How, you may ask, do Italian women do it? Indeed,  I am often asked in the comments on this blog whether they count calories.  The answer is, of course, that they eat healthily, do not rush their meals and do not eat between them.  Having said that, I have to add that many of them have exercise régimes that they carry out with military precision and regularity. But I'm sure that their relaxed and respectful attitude to food is the secret.

"Everything you see I owe to spaghetti."
- Sophia Loren

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


I like the fact that the Carnival chiacchiere biscuits are different from pasticceria to pasticceria, even in the same town.

Monday, February 07, 2011


Greek Theatre, Taormina

As the world watches events in Egypt and anxiously awaits an outcome, the "effetto Egitto" or "Egyptian effect" is beginning to make itself felt in the travel industry as travellers look for alternative destinations. Turkey, in particular, looks set to benefit from the situation in this way.

Mario Bevacqua, a native of Catania and the first Italian president of the world body UFTAA, the United Federation of Travel Agents' Associations, saw the opportunity at a meeting this weekend and immediately called hotel owners in Taormina, the only town in Sicily with enough hotels to accommodate the 150,000 travellers now wishing to change their Egyptian holiday plans.

And did the hotel owners jump at this unparalleled opportunity?  They did not.  The enterprising Mr Bevacqua says he received evasive responses, such as "We are closed for the season" or "We are closed for renovation work" from all the hotels he called.  Now, whilst it is feasible that some of the town's hotels might have the builders in, it is quite inconceiveable that this is the case with all of them so what on earth is going on? 

Whatever the answer, it is too late now and Italy's loss is Spain's gain as 150,000 tourists who could have brought Sicily some much needed revenue and prestige are now heading for the Canary Islands.  Wake up, Sicily!

Sunday, February 06, 2011


I have to admit that I am not a fan of Nutella, that ubiquitous hazelnut spread that Italians love to use at breakfast - or what passes for breakfast in Italy.  Nevertheless, I think that World Nutella Day is a lot of fun and the product does not deserve to find itself in the dock in California.

Yes, you read that right:  San Diego mother Athena Honenberg has taken Ferrero USA to court because, having  bought a jar of Nutella for her four-year-old after watching a television advertisement which claimed that the spread provides a healthy breakfast for children, she discovered that it contains 70% saturated fats and refined sugars.

Ferrero is defending both its product and its publicity.  My research showed that Nutella ingredients are listed quite accurately in the USA so I have a suggestion for Ms Honenberg:  next time, read the label!

Saturday, February 05, 2011


Something to wake and cheer us all up:

Edoardo Bennato - Sono solo Canzonette / Il gatto e il volpe

Thursday, February 03, 2011


myspace layouts codes

I am not a sports fan and I readily admit, reader, that what I know about the "beautiful game" can be summed up in the following five sentences:

1.  Football is not rugby.
2.  It has something to do with goals.
3.  In the 1960s a Bristol Rovers player called Bobby Jones used to cross himself before he took a corner - or  whatever the verb is for what footballers do with corners - and then wiggle his bum rather seductively.
4.  Another Bobby, Bobby Moore, seemed the cutest thing in the neatest of shorts to me in 1966.
5.  The Italian national team has the hunkiest players in the world.

Thus it was that a young student of mine who wishes to speak about A.C. Milan as an exam topic had to spend half an hour physically demonstrating to me what an "assist" is this afternoon.  "Do you know what a pass is, at least?" he asked in exasperation towards the end of this time.  I replied that even I could probably work that out, then turned to the internet where I learned, to my consternation, that "assist" is an English noun for whatever a footballer does when "assisting" the player who is about to score the goal.

Meanwhile my student, having given up on me, had written,

"Ibrahimovic is the best player and he does many assists and I have his teacher."

"You have his teacher?!" I exclaimed, wondering if we had a footballing prodigy in our midst.  But frantic scribbling out ensued and my student substituted the word, "t-shirt".

There endeth the lesson.

Image of Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Every woman, whatever her age, needs a dishy man to dream about and I dream about Luca Zingaretti, star of the Montalbano TV series and presenter of the treno barocco video in the sidebar of this blog.

Image:  Wikimedia Commons

The Montalbano series is based on the novels by Andrea Camilleri about a Sicilian gourmet detective.  It is mainly filmed in Scicli and at the sea in Sampieri:

But I was disconcerted today to learn that in the new Montalbano series, which will feature stories of the detective's early career, the lovely Luca is to be replaced by Michele Riondino:

Image: Online Gratis

Now, Michele is not exactly the kind of guy a girl would want to chuck out of bed but he is not quite the mature woman's crumpet, either - or is he?


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