Saturday, June 30, 2012


As you can imagine, there's only one topic of conversation in Italy today and it's not the monetary kind of "Euro"!  We are all holding our breath as Italy prepares to face Spain in tomorrow night's Euro 2012 football final so I think something patriotic is called for this week:

Paolo Fresu - L'Inno di Mameli

Thanks to my friend Nellina Laganà for drawing my attention to this version on twitter!

Friday, June 29, 2012


Modica: Duomo di San Pietro

Today is San Pietro or St Peter's Day and, as one of Modica's two Baroque cathedrals is dedicated to the keeper of God's keys, the feast is celebrated in earnest here:  the bells of the Duomo di San Pietro have been ringing loudly and clearly at 30-minute intervals all day, people have been leaving offerings of food for the poor, there have been firecrackers and later the statue of the saint will be carried in procession around the town.

But this year, something is missing: in Italy a festival usually brings bancarelle, or open-air stalls and, whereas in Modica for San Pietro these usually stretch for over a mile, this year there are none.  Why?  Because the town council wanted to move them from their usual pitch in Modica Bassa's Viale Medaglie d'Oro, at the lower end of the Corso or main street, to the far end where the bus station is.  This would have meant a re-routing of both local and inter-city buses and the prospective stallholders complained, with some justification, that the site was too far from the shopping centre.  The council had wanted to move the stalls to avoid traffic congestion and because of hygiene concerns but the bus station end of the Corso would, in my view, have been a ridiculous alternative, as it would have been difficult for people to reach on foot. I have walked from the Viale Medaglie d'Oro, where the buses would have stopped had the proposal gone ahead, to the bus station many times but I would not have attempted it in 40°C!  As so often in Modica, no thought had been given to pedestrians.

The parish priest of San Pietro is, however, happy about the absence of bancarelle as this is more in keeping with a religious festival.

Modica: the bancarelle di San Pietro 
of times gone by

St Peter is the protector of fishermen, fishmongers, cobblers, locksmiths, reapers, watchmakers and doormen. He must be very busy with all that and the gate to watch too, so I hope he enjoys his evening trip around Modica.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


No, not a way to solve the euro crisis using the culinary arts but a homage to the Azzurri who are, of course, playing tonight.

I've wanted to try this dessert for a long time and it's based on a Good Housekeeping magazine recipe that I've had for years.  Their version involves making and baking an egg custard and, as I can't stand baked custards, I've both simplified and Italianised the recipe:

First I made up three sachets of crema pasticcera [confectioner's custard, which we can buy in Italy] using 500 ml milk. Then I whipped up 500 ml panna da montare [use double or whipping cream if you are not in Italy] to the soft peaks stage.  I broke 5 small croissants into a deep serving bowl and added 100 gr finely chopped chocolate and most of a 500 gr packet of frozen raspberries.  I then quickly mixed the cream and the crema pasticcera together and poured it over the other ingredients, mixing everything well.  All that was left to do was to chill the mixture for at least a couple of hours and decorate with the rest of the raspberries and the little sugar footballers and flags  [found in the supermarket].

And "No" again to your next question:  I am certainly not going to eat it all myself!  Rosa and her family are the willing testers.

Monday, June 25, 2012


One of my favourite places in the Province of Ragusa, the Castello di Donnafugata, was the centre of public and media attention on Saturday as the romantic setting for the wedding of the gorgeous Luca Zingaretti [of Montalbano fame] and his long-term partner, the Neapolitan actress Luisa Ranieri.

Among the guests were the actress Isabella Ferrari, Montalbano producer Alberto Sironi, the actors Cesare Bocci [Mimi Augello in the Montalbano series] and Peppino Mazzotta [Inspector Fazio] and, of course, the couple's one-year-old daughter Emma. There was a red carpet,  from which Mr Zingaretti greeted well-wishers, the castle walls were bedecked with soft lighting, the dinner was cooked by chef Ciccio Sultano and the cake was made by the Di Pasquale brothers of Ragusa's Pasticceria Di Pasquale.

There will be no immediate honeymoon as Mr Zingaretti is completing filming of a Montalbano series.  Although born in Rome, he says he always feels at home in Sicily.

Congratulations to the happy couple- I'm off to hurl myself on the bed and cry now.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012


A Modican breakfast on the go in 40°C comprises lemon granita with brioche.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


We're all sweltering in Italy's Scipione l'Africano heatwave so cool, light, easy food is called for. 

I can't remember in which publication I saw that Bresaola and Robiola cheese are a good combination but anyway I couldn't find any Robiola yesterday.  However, my old friend Mr T, who has reappeared at the supermarket deli counter, suggested I use creamy Certosa instead, so I did.  Now Bresaola can be the very devil to get off that transparent paper the slices are laid upon but when Mr T cuts them, I can manage it!

All you do for this is lay a large fresh basil leaf on each slice of Bresaola, spread over some Certosa Stracremosa, Certosa Light or whatever spreadable cheese you prefer, then roll the slice up and tie a blanched chive leaf around it. [I have neither the patience nor the dexterity to make bows but you can if you like!]

Serve this with a dish of olives and another of sundried tomatoes and you have a feast.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


For me, as for many women, high summer brings its own battles, among them the battle of depilation, the battle of non-tanning legs and, fashion being what it is, the battle of the bra strap.

Every woman knows that strapless bras don't push you up and out properly and, unless you are shaped like a stick insect or can afford designer clothes with the underwear stitched in, the escaping bra strap can be the bane of your summer life - if you like to be well-groomed, that is.  Last week I was amazed to see, during a BBC World report on marriage in Britain, an adult bridesmaid revealing white bra straps under the black straps of her dress.  Come on, lady, if you are going to let the straps show, you could at least get them in the same colour as your garment!

Anyway, this year the Italians have come to the rescue and, as I've often said, forget the Fiat, the Bialetti coffee maker and the Vespa - Italy should be famed for its bra design!  Those clever folk at the Intimissimi, I've discovered, will take the existing straps off one of their bras for you and sew on a pair of slots on each side so that you can replace the old straps with a pair of their transparent ones:

Women of the world, bras off to the Intimissimi!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Congratulations to Antonello Buscema, Mayor of Modica, Cultural Councillor Annamaria Sammito and everyone involved in the second edition of Modica's Miete Culture, or "Harvest of Culture", a series of cultural events running from mid-June until the end of August.  The Festival has been awarded the Medaglia di Rappresentanza by President Giorgio Napolitano and the organisers say that this recognition has encouraged them to work even harder to make the event a success.

This year, on the tenth anniversary of the inscription of the Val di Noto towns of Caltagirone, Militello in Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa and Scicli in the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Festival is paying tribute to the Arab Spring and in particular the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. This evening the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself alight in 2010 in protest at economic conditions in his country and his own treatment by police and officials, is being honoured in Modica's Palazzo San Domenico, where 200 jasmine plants have been placed along with a ceremonial torch as part of an art installation by the Brazilian artist Marcel Cordeiro.  Mr Bouazizi's sister, representatives from the Tunisian Embassy in Rome and the mayors of the other seven Val di Noto towns are attending the ceremony.

Dance, music, drama and other literary events also form part of the Festival, which was opened last week by the 90-year-old  torinese poet Maria Luisa Spaziani, whose 1970 collection L'occhio del ciclone was dedicated to Sicily.

It is hoped that the President's recognition of the initiative will help this annual Festival to become more widely known on a national level and raise awareness about life in other Mediterranean countries.

Modica's Miete Culture Festival
as depicted at the Infiorata Netina,
 May 2012.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


A new single from the great Patty Pravo:

Patty Pravo - Com'è bello far l'amore

Friday, June 15, 2012


It was nice to see that Mr Monti's staff had their priorities right as a cheer for Italy's goal in the Euro Championships yesterday interrupted the Premier's news conference with French President François Hollande in Rome. The genial Monsieur Hollande, who this week found himself in the middle of a spectacular cat fight, looked as if he longed to be enjoying simple boys' stuff at a football match!

At around the same time, I was on my way to call at a certain office with a friend.  Suddenly there was a screech of brakes as my friend  turned his car round in the middle of a main road, then started for home at a terrific speed, saying, "They won't be open - the match is on."


When a friend offers you one of these perfect, tiny fruit tartlets with a coffee, it would be churlish to refuse - wouldn't it?

Thursday, June 14, 2012


St Anthony of Padua with the child Jesus
by Antonio de Pereda
Image: Wikipedia

Yesterday there was a good development in my personal life.  I can't go into detail here yet but believe me, it's been a long time coming and the past couple of months have been particularly difficult.

"Ah, it's because it's Saint Anthony's Day", said a close friend here and as I was grateful and continue to need all the help I can get, I determined to find out more about St Anthony of Padua [ Fernando Martins de Bulhões, 15.8.1195 - 13.6.1231]:

Fernando was not from Padua at all but was born in Lisbon.  As a young man, he entered Augustine Canons but afterwards became a Franciscan, having met and been impressed by some Franciscan friars who were on their way to Morocco, where they were later martyred.  It was their simplicity that appealed to Anthony, as he became in his Franciscan order.

Anthony wanted to go and preach the Gospel in Morocco too but was unable to complete his journey because of illness. He therefore decided to visit Italy, the centre of his order but, in another turn of fate, his ship was driven towards Sicily in a storm and he landed at Messina.  I was delighted to discover this Sicilian connection!  Anthony travelled to Tuscany and then to San Paolo near Forli [Romagna], where he worked in a hospice and studied.  Then one day he was called upon to preach a sermon and he did this so eloquently that he was sent to preach all around Lombardy.  He even came to the attention of St Francis of Assisi himself, who gave Anthony teaching duties.  Anthony continued to preach but also served as an envoy to Pope Gregory IX and taught at several European universities.  He died on his way to Padua at the age of 36. He was canonized just eleven months after his death and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1946.  

During my research I learned that Saint Anthony is called upon to find missing objects [which could be very handy]  and you can also enlist his help in finding a husband [wish I'd known before].  He is the protector of orphans, prisoners, the shipwrecked, pregnant women, infertile women, glaziers and new recruits of all kinds.

To bring this back to the personal, I wasn't infertile but life did not bless me with circumstances in which I might have had children.  Few women in this position talk about it and the fact that it is a loss - of hope and so much more - does not seem to be recognised by society.  Whether or not, had I been born in the UK 30 years later than I was, I would have skipped along to the sperm clinic is a question I cannot answer, nor is it the point here. I'm just going to  assume that St Anthony's compassion extends to those of us who did not conceive for other reasons and from today he joins my list of favourite saints.

Now, where did I put my keys?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


As I said yesterday, no country is better than Italy at its best and the people of Lampedusa have been demonstrating this in recent days:

At the weekend, around 200 students, children and elderly people from the earthquake-stricken areas of the Emilia-Romagna were welcomed to the island for a free holiday so that, away from the constant tremors which continue to shake and terrify their region, they can rest in the sun and recuperate a little.  Some of the students are preparing for their maturità [pre-university] examinations and it is hoped that their stay on the island will enable them to study in an environment in which they can be free of fear.

The idea is the initiative of Antonio Martello of the Lampedusa Hoteliers' Consortium and the Sogni nel Blu travel company, Riccardo Toto of the New Livingston airline company and members of the Lampedusa Business Association.  Mr Martello said that they wanted to show the people of the Emilia-Romagna that the islanders feel close to them in their time of trouble.

I'm sure you will all join me in congratulating the companies who have sponsored the trip and the people of Lampedusa and in wishing the Emilian group a very happy holiday.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


As rumours spread that Italy will be the next roof tile to fall off the Eurozone house of cards, in Sicily we are worried about our local and inter-city bus company, AST, which is reported to be in trouble.

AST services, we are told, are currently operating only with the forbearance of the company's creditors and it has become public knowledge that, as in institutions all over Italy from small businesses to government itself, high-ranking officials of the company have been enjoying considerable luxury whilst carrying out their duties.

Few outside Italy know that parliamentarians, for instance, enjoy privileges unheard of in other countries, from free rail tickets for personal travel to ridiculously cheap meals whilst working and these are among anomalies that the Monti government has been doing its best to correct.  But ask the man in the street what else the Monti government is doing and he will answer, "Taxation" for the popular perception is that everyone is being taxed out of existence and there is little to cheer them up whilst this is happening. Tax evasion on an enormous scale has long been a way of life in Italy and now, rightly, you may imagine, everyone is afraid of a raid by the Financial Police.  However, the average Italian businessman will say that he has to pay so many taxes - and not just once a year - that he hardly deems the effort of continuing worthwhile.

I am the last person who should advise anyone on handling money, let alone a whole country, but what Italy needs is [a] liberalisation of its economy and [b] cheering up.  I personally had much hope of the Monti government but take one look at the sombre faces of its ministers and you would not be inclined to think that they were about to brighten your day. As I remarked when the government took office, the trouble with a government of "experts" is that experts tend to have comfortable, upper middle class lives so they cannot really imagine what it is like to be totally dependent on a meagre wage which is often simply NOT PAID.  Yes, in Italy it is quite common for an employer, even a public one, to pay late or not at all and it is considered,  if not exactly OK, perfectly normal.

And here we come to another "barrier" to a mobile economy:  it is the Italians' ability to tolerate the intolerable.  Is it because almost everyone has a family to help out with the bills when salaries are not paid that they put up with such nonsense from employers?  To go back to our beloved AST, is it because everyone has a car or, if they are elderly, has a relative with a car that they put up with an abysmal local service, at least in Modica?  Why, I have often wondered, does no one complain?

"Only old people use the buses", a student of mine informed me when I first arrived here.

"Thanks very much", said I.

This brings me to another element which I observe creeping into the situation, not just in Italy but all over Europe:  it is an idea that in order to stimulate the economy for the young, something must be taken away from the old.  This idea is dangerous and pernicious and I would hate to see Italy, where the elderly are certainly more respected and better looked after by their families than in the UK, embrace it.  Dear ministers, dear youth, dear friends, old people need to live too and your own old age will be upon you quite suddenly one day and you won't know where it came from.

Of course, that old Italian paradox also comes into play in this crisis:  the very characteristics that I have mentioned above and those that the rest of the world criticises in Italians are those that we most love in them in better times:  their tolerance, their ability to throw their hands up in the air and say, "That's how life is", their determination to spend time with their families and enjoy the sun while the world crumbles around them....  Let us hope, then, that the situation brings out the best in them for no one can better Italy at its best.

Thus it is that Modica's inner city AST buses do not run on time and your driver may well stop off en route to purchase a sack of potatoes or take refreshment.  But let us be tolerant - the potatoes were a bargain and the vegetable seller will go home at 1.30 pm.  On top of that, it's bloody hot today!  Besides, such antics brighten your day in a way that politicians will never be able to do. Let us also cross our fingers - for I am sick of the expression "crosshairs" -  for Sicily's AST company.  After all, as another student of mine charmingly said last year,

"I'm so proud of those buses.  They're almost punctual."

Monday, June 11, 2012


My friend Carmela the beautician gave me this recipe, so in her honour I have named it "Beauty Parlour Dessert".  The honey and the egg wash are my additions:

Take a 230 gr piece of ready-rolled pasta sfoglia or puff pastry and lay it flat on baking parchment on a baking tray.  [The pasta sfoglia we can buy in Italy comes rolled in baking parchment already, so all you have to do is straighten it out onto the tin.]  Sprinkle about 1 tablesp pane grattugiato or fine fresh breadcrumbs on top of the pastry.  Now add 1 tablesp sugar to 250 gr ricotta, mix it and spread the mixture over the breadcrumbs.  To this, add 3 - 4 peeled, cored and chopped apples and drizzle over about 1 tablesp honey. Then sprinkle over a handful of sultanas, a handful of pinenuts and a little powdered cinnamon.  Roll up the pastry from a long side and seal the ends well.  Add a couple of tablsp milk to a beaten egg, mix with a fork and brush the mixture over the pastry. Cook at 180 C for 30 - 35 mins.  Let it cool a little before lifting onto a plate. 

This is best served cold, with a little more ricotta, cream or ice cream. I think I'll serve it with some cinnamon gelato next time.

Grazie, Carmela!

Saturday, June 09, 2012


I understand there's some footie tournament on, so here's one for Italy:

Gianna Nannini e Edoardo Bennato - Un'estate italiana 

Friday, June 08, 2012


Wild strawberry and gianduia [chocolate and hazelnut] gelato 
served at the
 Caffè Europeo in Catania last week.

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Hats off to the person who had the idea of planting a herb garden all around Modica's new shopping centre, La Fortezza:

The herbs are planted in neat, clearly labelled rows 

and this week we learned that there may be more to the herb below right than meets the eye:

Oregano, say researchers in the US, has properties which can combat prostrate cancer.  The herb is used a lot in cookery here and this is how we buy it in its dried form.  [It is the only culinary herb I know of which is better dried than fresh.]

So maybe that's why cleaning lady Rosa's 90-year-old male clients still have the energy to chase her around the kitchen!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Hi, folks.

It's Simi here!

Well, I didn't want to outshine those corgis that have the Queenie lady for a mummy so I left my summer haircut till today.  Now they can eat their hearts out, just like that ole black poodle down the road!

Did you all have a nice Jubilee? I had fun barking at the fireworks over that big kennel where the corgis live in London.  I thought it was ferragosto till my mummy told me it was their mummy's barkversary.  Oh, yes, I remember London 'cos I stayed there in a doggy hotel before we got on the great big airyplane to Sicily.  That was seven years ago.

I've got a Union Jack charm, you know!

Soon  I'll be helping my mummy come up with an idea for an Olympics cake.  At least there won't be a corgi on it this time....

Time for a snooze now so see you all soon, fans and remember to keep your humans in order!


Simi xxxx woof!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


"Always look up in Sicily" was advice I received from my friend Irma during my very first visit to Sicily almost twenty years ago and indeed, she was right for otherwise I would have missed sights such as this one in Modica:

I was reminded of Irma's words last week in Catania, where, sitting on the terrace of the Caffè Europeo on via Etnea, I happened to look up and saw this sign on the wall:

"If you say a Hail Mary to this picture", it reads, "you will receive an indulgence of 200 days."

At first I couldn't see a picture, only the fresh flowers behind the grille below the sign, but as I looked more closely I realised that there was a Madonna in the background.

I have no idea who painted this picture or how old it is.   I've sat on that terrace many times but hadn't seen the sign before because I was not looking up and had missed the picture because my view had always previously been obscured by other customers sitting at the table immediately in front of it.

Anyway, I said the prayer because I need all the help I can get.

Monday, June 04, 2012


What a fantastic spread we enjoyed at Chiara's house yesterday, in celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee:

Quiche, sandwiches with Branston Pickle and delicious sausage rolls

There were other traditional condiments too.

There had to be jam tarts

and a traditional, British fruitcake!

Some beautiful Jubilee cupcakes and some
very special biscuits

Raspberries are difficult to find here so it was
lovely to see them on this sumptuous raspberry cheesecake
- and to taste them again!

I made strawberry tiramisù and I can tell you it's quite difficult to make
a diamond shape out of sugared silver balls!

I also made "Corgi cake" mark 2.

And what Sicilian feast would be complete without
lots of yummy ice cream?

Later, out on Chiara's terrace, there were fine renderings of God Save the Queen,  Sosban Fach [by yours truly and a little less fine] Auld Lang Syne, O Canada, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory.  

How do I reconcile all this with my Republican sentiments? Easily:  as I explain to my Sicilian friends, I might be against the monarchy as an institution but I have nothing against parties!

Saturday, June 02, 2012


No apologies for the Britishness of my choices this weekend: my thoughts are 1,500 miles away not only because London is so much in the news, but because it is exactly seven years ago today that Simi the dog and I boarded a plane for Sicily there.

Here is one of my favourite songs about the capital city of my homeland:

Frank Sinatra - London by Night

And this has got to be the best version of Maybe it's Because I'm a Londoner ever!

The Muppet Show - Maybe it's Because I'm a Londoner

Have a happy Jubilee weekend wherever you are.

Friday, June 01, 2012


Don't panic, Your Majesty - Sicily Scene is ready for your Jubilee bash!

 I've got Jubilee toes

and it's amazing what you can find at Catania market:

By the way, my lovely hairdresser Raffaele would have been devastated if he hadn't received an invitation and, as I know you're very busy, Ma'am, I made sure you sent him one:

Cincin, Lilibet!


View My Stats