Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "That song stuck in your head."

"After the ball was over,
Two little girls in blue,
Riding to Monte Carlo
On a bicycle made for two"....

....sang my lovely grandad often.  As he told it, these were lines from different songs put together by a poor seller of sheet music to the tune of "Two Little Girls in Blue";  the enterprising gentleman would sing his improvised lyric in the street and thus sold more music!  I have no idea if this is true and, although three of the lines are well-known, I can't find any song with the line "riding to Monte Carlo" in it so if you know of one, I'd be most grateful to hear about it. The tune has gone around in my head for over 60 years! Even here in Sicily, I sometimes find myself humming it.

Gerald Adams - Two Little Girls in Blue  [original lyrics]

And you know those tunes that you keep humming but you can't place the words? There was one that drove me crazy for ages when I first arrived in Modica and it wasn't until the eve of my sixtieth birthday, when I was looking through some CD compilations of 1960s music, that I realised it was this song:

Bobby Darin - Change

Quite why I had been humming a Bobby Darin song every day in Sicily is beyond me but the forgotten lyrics were very appropriate for me at that time!

Then there are the Sanremo Music Festival songs that get a lot of plays on Italian radio so you would have to be completely tone-deaf to live here and not end up singing along to some of them.  Just ten days after this year's Festival, I cannot write a music post without mentioning this annual event and this winning song from 1959 was the first Italian song I ever learnt:

Domenico Modugno - Piove [Ciao, ciao bambina]

One of the most hummable songs ever to be sung at the Festival is, in my opinion, Arisa's Sincerità which won the Newcomers' section half a century later, in 2009:

Arisa - Sincerità

From the Riviera dei Fiori to Cardiff, Wales, UK, where it was announced at the weekend that Dame Shirley Bassey, who was born in my hometown, is to receive the Freedom of the City.  "Our Shirl" is one of the world's great performers and she has a wide repertoire but it is this song from one of her earliest LPs - that's a long-playing vinyl record or disc, for all you young folk out there - which most often goes around in my head:

Shirley Bassey - I've Never Been in Love Before

Well, another Cardiff girl, the one who is writing this blog, did not "ride to Monte Carlo" but to Modica, Sicily, where, every day at almost every hour, her life is punctuated by the bells of the little Sacro Cuore Church.  Their tune is often in her head, too, and she would have to take a recording of their sound with her if she were to be marooned on the BBC's famous desert island!

Below is the complete list of blogs participating in this week's theme:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I've mentioned this pretty pasta, made by CioMod, before. The sheets are made from the hard wheat flour of Puglia and the colours are worked by our Modican chocolate maker using cocoa, spinach, beetroot, paprika and turmeric.  I've used them for lasagne before but this time I decided to add some chocolate to the sauce.  After all, there was cocoa in the pasta sheets so surely a little chocolate would compliment it?

You may be thinking that chocolate does not really do that much for savoury sauces and a few years ago I would have agreed with you but if there's one thing I have learned from my friend Katia Amore, it is that if you are going to add chocolate, you have to use the real McCoy - pure chocolate with no other ingredient than cocoa, as made by the Bonajuto chocolate makers of Modica.

Inspired by Katia's chicken with prosecco and chocolate recipe, I also wanted to use chicken so I looked up chicken lasagne recipes by several Italian chefs and they all used leek in the sauce rather than onion.  Well, it is St David's Day on Thursday so I was happy to incorporate this symbol of Wales into my creation!

Here's what I did:

The day before you want to make the dish, marinate 500 gr minced chicken meat - in Italy you may have to get polpa and mince it yourself in a food processor - in white wine to cover.  Grate just one square of pure chocolate over it and leave overnight.

The next day, chop the white part of a leek finely and soften it in 3 tablesp olive oil in a wide pan.  Add the drained chicken mixture and cook it on all sides, breaking it up as much as you can as you stir it.  Then add 250 gr sliced mushrooms, a little chopped parsley, a sprinking of fresh thyme and some dried oregano. Stir everything well and add the contents of a 680 gr bottle of passata.  Season well and cook over low heat for about 40 mins. Meanwhile, soften the lasagne sheets in hot tap water in a large bowl.  Gently heat 400 gr ready-made béchamel sauce in a small saucepan and smear a little over the base of a lasagne dish.  Now add layers of pasta, chicken sauce and grated parmesan, grana or ragusano stagionato cheese - I like to use the latter - finishing with a layer of pasta.  Pour over the rest of the béchamel, sprinkle the top with a little more grated cheese and dot little knobs of butter all over.  Bake at 180 C for about 30 mins.

Trust me - that tiny amount of chocolate will give the sauce quite a kick!

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Of the unplaced songs at the 2012 Sanremo Music Festival, this one has been growing on me all week:

Dolcenera - Ci vediamo a casa

Friday, February 24, 2012


There has been much ado - and understandably so - in the Sicilian media about the presence on the island this week of the Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson.  Miss Thompson has been here to film scenes for the forthcoming BBC documentary Shakespeare in Italy and visited Messina, Castellammare del Golfo and Palermo, where she graced the Antico Caffè Spinnato, much to the delight of the staff and their early-morning customers.

The documentary, presented by the historian and broadcaster Francesco da Mosto, will focus on the Italian locations and strong theatrical traditions which inspired the bard as well as pointing out the ways in which Shakespeare has influenced and continues to influence Italy.  According to a BBC press release, there might have been another, secret reason why Shakespeare was so fond of Italian settings and to find out more we'll just have to wait for the screenings.

According to the Palermo edition of La Repubblica, Miss Thompson, when asked what she thought about the theory that Shakespeare was not only Italian but Sicilian, replied that she did not think it mattered.  She believes he came from a mixed background and that the coming together of different cultures can save humanity.  She also said that the British and the Sicilians share a sense of irony and an awareness of the closeness of tragedy and comedy.

The "Shakespeare was Sicilian" theory has been around for some time and Professor Martino Iuvara from Ispica wrote a book about it, Shakespeare era italiano, in 2002.  In this volume he claims that Shakespeare was born Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza [or Scrollalanza] in Messina and that his family later fled to London to escape religious persecution.  "Crolla" can be translated as "shake" [verb] and "lanza" is almost "lancia", which can mean "spear", a theory with which the author Andrea Camilleri [of Montalbano fame] and his friend the director Giuseppe Dipasquale had much fun when they turned it into a play in 2010.

What do I believe? For what it's worth I believe that William Shakespeare was indeed from Stratford-upon-Avon, England but, like Miss Thompson, I do not think that it matters.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


This is my take on a recipe in the February edition of UK Good Housekeeping magazine.  The use of cumin seeds was what had attracted me to it as I miss using them!  I was going to cook the dish just as it said in the recipe - well, inasmuch as I ever do - but I forgot to get the carrots, you see.  I did have some red and green peppers in the fridge, although I wasn't quite sure these would go well with the orange used but "What the hell?" I thought - nothing ventured, nothing new created.  As this Italianised the dish somewhat, I decided to cook it on top of the stove rather than in the oven, which is the more usual method of cooking here.

You need:

3 tablesp olive oil
3 small red onions, cut into wedges [which will probably fall apart into rings but no matter]
1 red and 2 green elongated peppers, sliced
half tablesp cumin seeds
100 gr dried apricots, chopped
6 boned & skinned chicken thighs, halved by the butcher
juice and rind of 1 large orange
seasalt & black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and soften the onion in it.  Add the peppers and soften for about 10 mins.  Add cumin seeds and give everything a good stir.  Now add the chicken and brown on all sides.  Add the apricots and seasoning to taste and stir well. Add the rind and juice of an orange and 150 ml water.  Bring to the boil, stirring, cover  and simmer for about 30 mins.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012


This is Giovanna, an EIS student who has recently spent a few days in London.  As you see, she has come back full of enthusiasm and we think she should be Sicily's Ambassador to the Jubilee celebrations in the UK!

Giovanna also brought us some delicious, homemade chiacchiere to celebrate the end of Carnival:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


There was son et lumière, a parade of masked figures and dancing for all at Ragusa's Carnevale nel Barocco in the city's Piazza San Giovanni on Sunday evening:

Best of all, €5.00 bought you a tray of pasta with traditional pork sauce, a hunk of local bread, a glass of red wine and a container of chiacchiere:

My, that sauce was good!

Monday, February 20, 2012


Etna's plume of ash was clearly visible from the bus on Saturday:

[Sorry about the reflection.]

Sunday, February 19, 2012


It was a great pleasure to meet my twitter friend, the catanese actress Nellina Laganà, in person in Catania yesterday.

Nellina has appeared in many plays and films, including L'Onore e il Rispetto, parte seconda and the Commissario Montalbano film, Le ali della sfinge.  Here are some more photos of Nellina:

Here's to meeting up with you again soon, Nellina!

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I am pleased to be able to report that things have gone more smoothly since my last post on this year's festival but anything could happen tonight!  We are promised more from Mr Celentano, by the way, but have been told that his appearance will be limited to 30 minutes, to include three songs.  At least he hasn't got a tattoo - that I know of....

Here is my pick of the songs left in the competition:

On the first night, I immediately liked this song and its singer but I'm not sure that another philosophical song can win:  

Eugenio Finardi - E tu lo chiami Dio

Link in case embedding is disabled

The words "I don't give names to things that are greater than I am" appeal to me.

Then I decided that this would also be a worthy winner:

Noemi - Sono solo parole

Link in case embedding is diasabled

And on Wednesday I took a liking to this song, written by its performers:

Pierdavide Carone e Lucio Dalla - Nani

Link in case embedding is disabled

This is a strong contender too:

Arisa - La notte

Link in case embedding is disabled

The hairstyle-trend-setting singer Emma Marrone, usually known just as Emma, is popular with young people so she may well win, though her song would not be my choice:

Emma - Non è L'Inferno

Link in case embedding is disabled

I'm afraid I don't like the hot pants either - they were a cruel fashion the first time around and they are a cruel fashion now. They remind me of this:

Clodagh Rogers - Jack in the Box - Eurovision 1971

Gosh, was it that long ago?!

And I have to mention Chiara Civello, who was born in Rome to Modican parents and whom I have seen live in concert here. Tony Bennett has described her as "the best jazz singer of her generation". Her song was eliminated last night but it is rather pretty:

Chiara Civello - Al posto del mondo

Link in case embedding is disabled

Well, I'm off to watch the rest of the show and vote!  Hope you enjoy it if you can watch from where you are and, if you can't, that you will like the clips.

May the best song win.

UPDATE - 19.2.12 at 01.19

And the winner is.... Emma.

So now we can all go back to talking about the euro.

Friday, February 17, 2012


The simplest recipes are the best and this one for pollo all'arancia, from a regional cookbook that came with a newspaper, is fantastic!  Unusually, for a Sicilian recipe, it used butter instead of olive oil and the other ingredients are orange juice and rind, lemon juice, sage, garlic, a little flour and white wine.  The sprigs of rosemary are added at the end of cooking.

Naturally, I am of the opinion that it's the taste of Sicilian oranges that makes the dish so delicious!

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Judging by the twitter feeds on Tuesday night, Italians were not impressed by the opening evening of the 62nd Sanremo Music Festival.  Of course, it could be that online I attract, and am attracted to, people who are as cynical as I am but it has to be said that a lot was going wrong on the Ariston stage:

Presenter Gianni Morandi was being assisted by actor, singer and comic Rocco Papaleo and the glamour was supposed to have been provided by the Czech model Ivana Mrazova but, the young lady being unwell, last year's assistants, Elisabetta Canalis and Belén Rodriguez, were drafted in at the last minute.  Now I don't mind the ex-nearly-Mrs-Clooney, who has an unexpected comic talent, but I can't stand Rodriguez and I don't know of a woman who can.  More of her later.

Then the electronic voting system refused to work and the in-studio jury members were forced to use pen and paper. Worst of all, the much trumpeted and eagerly awaited appearance of veteran singer Adriano Celentano was well-nigh disastrous:  Celentano, whose contract apparently stated that he could more or less do what he liked, did so, giving a long speech in which he suggested that two Catholic magazines and Corriere della Sera should close and launched a personal attack on one of the newspaper's critics. Thus Rai found itself apologising to the Catholic bishops and the boards of the unfortunate publications yesterday morning and such was the media outcry that the organisation's deputy director was dispatched to Sanremo to oversee the rest of the festival.  This, in turn, gave rise to the headline, "Sanremo commissariato!" in most newspapers today.  In my opinion, Adriano Celentano should have stuck to singing for he is no Roberto Benigni and his worst offence was to have bored everybody to tears.

Gianni Morandi, however, had reason to be pleased with himself as the show had gained a record 50% of the audience share - until, that is, the second evening on Wednesday, when the viewing figures fell dramatically.  There was a moment, however, when they are reported to have soared, and that was when Rodriguez glided down a staircase wearing a long dress slit to the groin and designed to reveal a butterfly tattoo right there. I could just imagine the eyes of every man in Italy popping out with the possible exception of those poor male souls already exhausted by discussion of Rodriguez's cleavage, which appeared smaller on Wednesday night than it had on Tuesday.  Men are so innocent in some ways, aren't they, girls? They have no idea what a good bra can do.... 

Thankfully, on Wednesday, Ms Mrazova arrived so hopefully we have seen the back of Rodriguez.  After all, we've seen everything else and I don't know why she doesn't just appear nude and have done with it.   But there was more trouble in store for Morandi, who might have been about to breathe a sigh of relief, and this came in the form of a comic duo called I Soliti Idioti.  These two performed an unfunny sketch about homosexuality and press-ganged an obviously uncomfortable Morandi into presiding over a mock "marriage ceremony" on stage.  Then Morandi made the mistake of declaring, several times, that he "has nothing against gays but...", thus offending the entire gay community.  From his press comments this morning, he obviously doesn't understand why and this evening has been saying that he "loves gays".  Poor Gianni - he does try!  He is much loved in Italy so there is no doubt that he will be forgiven.

Tonight, I am glad to say, has gone better as it is Viva l'Italia! evening and the competition singers are performing, with guest stars from different countries, Italian songs which have had worldwide success.  With Patti Smith, Brian May, Sergio Dalma, Lucio Dalla, José Feliciano and Macy Gray among the guest performers, this has been a successful evening with several standing ovations.

Oh! I almost forgot - the competition songs!  Most of them seem a little lacklustre to me but there are two that I am rooting for. I'll tell you more about these on Saturday.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What smell takes you back?"

In the book Une Gourmandise [Gourmet Rhapsody] by the French novelist Muriel Barbery a famous but unloved food critic lies dying.  Before he shuffles off this mortal coil, he wants to experience a certain taste sensation again.  The trouble is, he can't remember what it is.....

I think it's often like that with smells.  They can be very elusive but also very evocative and, once we identify them, they can take us as far back in time as we can remember.  For a couple of years here I'd been sniffing numerous tester perfumes in an attempt to find .... what?  That's just it - I didn't really know what aroma I was searching for but my longing for whatever it was became like a thirst.  I have a theory that this is partly a result of not having been in my own country for a long time.  Then one day I realised:  as a child I spent my holidays on the beach in Paignton, Devonshire and my Dad used to buy "Devon Violets" perfume for my mum, whose name was Violet.

I was last in Devonshire as a teenager in 1964 but any smell that is similar to "Devon Violets" takes me right back there:

Me at the Model Village in Babbacombe, Devon

Most of you know that I'm an avid reader and the smell and feel of books fascinate me almost as much as  their content. At school and at university I loved the smell of French Livre de Poche editions and I still do:

Then there are the smells I miss on an almost daily basis and one of these, during this particularly cold winter even in Sicily, is that of warmth. [Not heat - we get plenty of that in summer - but warmth!] Houses here can be very cold because so much heat is lost through long windows and balcony doors which are not double-glazed.  Many Sicilians are reluctant to switch their central heating on, preferring to wear numerous layers of clothing even at home so it is often colder inside than out.  I miss the all-enveloping warmth of a well-heated British home and the welcoming smell of that warmth.

I can't say I miss the smell of Cardiff's black beer wafting over the city from the brewery, though and I'd much rather inhale the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans which fills Modica's Sorda district on certain mornings - not for much longer, though, as Caffè Moak is planning to transfer its headquarters to Pozzallo.

The aroma of Welshcakes cooking on a flat griddle was the smell of home to me as a child, in an era when women had weekly "baking days" and there were always homemade cakes for tea.  Here I manage to make Welshcakes on a pan called a testo romagnolo and I'll be preparing my next batch on St David's Day [March 1st].

My testo romagnolo - take off the lid and rack
 and you have the perfect flat griddle!

Welshcakes - Sicilian style

What are the smells I most closely associate with Italy?  The unmistakeable aroma of vanilla as you pass any pasticceria and, in Sicily, the lovely perfume of the jasmine flower - which is not unlike that of "Devon Violets".

Below is the full list of bloggers participating in this week's theme:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


My friend Carol King and I nearly backed out of a coach trip to Agrigento on Sunday when an 05.30 departure was announced but we decided that we really did want to attend the 67th Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore [Almond Blossom Festival] so up we got and off we went.

When the coaches arrived at our boarding point we were both somewhat disconcerted to see people loading enormous bags and even suitcases into the luggage compartment and wondered what could be in them as this wasn't a trip with an overnight stay.  Then we saw some familiar shapes covered in special waxed paper being carefully placed on top of the bags and we understood:  our travelling companions had been loading their packed lunches!  Every Sunday they go to the pasticceria to buy trays of pastries and why should this Sunday have been any different just because they were going on a trip?

To be honest, I had been hoping for a good nap on the four-hour journey and had thought my fellow-passengers would be feeling the same.  However, they were all remarkably chirpy.  By 8 am an animated discussion about how to make the best pane di casa [homemade bread] was in full swing with the men confidently contributing what they assured us were the most reliable cooking tips.

Luck was with us weather-wise and the sun was shining on Agrigento's honey-coloured temples as we approached the Valle dei Templi.  When I saw Concordia in all its breathtaking glory I felt as I always do in Akrigas - as though I have finally come home.

Once we had disembarked Carol firmly steered me past the market traders with their tempting trinkets and on we walked to the town centre where the processions would shortly be taking place.  Everything had been well organised and the parade began only half an hour late, which is excellent in these parts.

First came the bersaglieri, playing a fanfare.  One cannot, of course, take photos of the bersaglieri for public display but I thought you would like to admire the magnificent hat worn by this fine gentleman from one of their benevolent associations:

Then came these jolly folk:

Band after band appeared:

There were knights aplenty

and who needs to go to London for the Jubilee?

Our friends from across the pond were not forgotten

and folk groups from all over the world joined the procession.

The flag-throwers performed amazing feats:  up and up went the flags, time after time, and time after time they were expertly caught:

Suddenly it was time for lunch by a shimmering sea:

Afterwards, on the coach, everyone was offered a glass of Limoncello by the tour organisers.

And so to the highlight of the day - the performances by international folk groups and prize-giving ceremony in the Valle dei Templi with the Temple of Concordia as the backdrop.  Now my days of clambering up Sicilian hillsides like a mountain goat are over so I couldn't get high enough or close enough to get good shots of the performers but I hope at least to give you a flavour of the multicultural nature of the event:

As I watched both performers and spectators from my perch atop a stone, I realised that here was Italy at its greatest: there has to be hope for a country where so many young people can gather peacefully and joyfully to watch such an event taking place in front of a building which has stood for 2,500 years.  It didn't matter that they weren't always listening; what mattered was that they had come. There were also elderly folk like me, people nel mezzo del cammin della vita, babies and dogs.  Everyone was welcome at Agrigento yesterday.

The Agrigento Almond Blossom Festival began in 1934 in the town of Naro, where its aim was to celebrate spring by giving farm workers a day off and some fun.  Later the Festival was moved to Agrigento and over the years, the word spread, not only in the rest of Italy but around the world.  The white almond blossom represents peace and friendship and it is in this spirit that people from many countries meet and find "concord".

An added attraction this year has been a collection of sculptures by Igor Mitoraj.  These bronze "giants of mythology" have been placed around the temples and are on display until 20th February.

We left the lovely Valle at sunset, having enjoyed a truly international festival in the most beautiful of settings.

Everyone has their own vision of eternity.  This is mine:

Agrigento - Tempio di Concordia

Agrigento - Tempio di Ercole


View My Stats