Tuesday, December 31, 2013


As I've mentioned many times, it's been a bad year for me, so let's start with this:

My personal disaster of the year

It's been a year in which I've lived through several personal disasters but when my fridge seemed to give up the ghost recently it was the last straw and the air turned a very deep blue around here! 

But on to something more positive....

My gadget of the year

This contraption for slicing onions is a godsend! 

It comes from Lidl Italia, who, as purveyors of dried cranberries, have disappointed me this year, it must be said.

My books of the year
[not necessarily books published in 2013, but a selection of books that I've read this year]:

At the beginning of the year, I enjoyed the second volume of Cardiff man Ken Follett's Century Trilogy, Winter of the World.  Volume three is due in September and I am looking forward to it. But come on, Ken bach, can't you hurry it up a bit?

I also loved Simon Mawer's The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.

Malala's autobiography, which I read in Italian, was compelling.

For Christmas I received this and Simi and I are enjoying perusing it every evening:

My cookbook of the year is this one, by Italy's "sexy chef" Carlo Cracco - recipes, new ideas, tips and a true masterclass.....

.... which brings me to ....

My TV programmes of the year

Number one has got to be Masterchef Italia and the third episode of the third series goes out on Thursday night. That's two hours of compulsive viewing for me so for the time being I won't be posting here on Thursdays, folks!

Italian TV often gets slated but Rai does turn out some interesting drama series. Of the 2013 offerings, I thought one of the best was Volare - La Grande Storia di Domenico Modugno. Perhaps it's because I can remember how, even in Britain, we all went around humming the song!

I've become addicted to Downton, via a friend who is kind enough to lend me her DVDs. I have watched some episodes in Italian, but let's face it - Maggie Smith's withering lines need to be delivered by Maggie Smith.

Monday nights at 11.30 find me tuned to Sky News UK for the press preview by Kevin Maguire and Andrew Pierce ["Toryboy"]. The banter between these two really cheers me up and I am waiting for them to get their own series.

My recipe of the year

Of the recipes I have invented myself, the winner is this pasta dish.

Post of the year on this blog

The most-read post of 2013 was not about Sicily at all, but about my memories of visiting the Verdi locations in the Emilia-Romagna.

My non-feminist of the year award

The neighbour who obsessively dusts her clothes line was a contender and the young fiancée of a certain Italian politician comes close but I have to hand the award to Miss Miley Cyrus [assuming she can stop twerking for long enough to receive it].

Words I don't want to hear in 2014

Twerking and the name of she who does it; phubbing [ignoring people to look at your mobile phone all the time and I don't want it done to me, either]; decadenza because the expulsion of Mr Berlusconi from the Senate took forever and succeeded in keeping him in the headlines; scontro [clash] because in Italy there's always a scontro somewhere in public life. How about a helpful and peaceful incontro [meeting] instead? Pazienza - a word that should be banned from the Italian language, especially in connection with public transport in Modica! And I don't want to hear any more of Darrell, Pip, Rob or Helen [all on The Archers].

My hopes for 2014

That there be no more tragedies like this.
That there be peace.
My personal hopes are to be held, understood and not judged and to be granted more time with my precious dog, Simi.
May the New Year be kind to all of you and your loved ones, too.

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne.

Buon anno a tutti!

Monday, December 30, 2013


It's always a pleasure to dine at Chiara's house and to do so on Christmas Day was very special indeed.

There were all sorts of antipasti, including these ham and cheese puffs

and my friend Linda's perfectly formed aita [chard] pasties:

Being allergic to fish, I had to pass on the salmon but I'm sure it was delicious:

Then there were cestini [baskets] di pasta. I must remember to get the recipe for these!

There were pork chops

 and, of course, turkey:

There were lots of desserts, too, including these lovely, gooey pastries

and chocolate salami:

And it wouldn't have been Christmas without a tronco!

I made and took along this Christmas cake. [It's Nigella's "Incredibly Easy Chocolate Fruit Cake" recipe and yes, I'm still a fan.] I used dried cranberries for some of the fruit content. Christmas cake is largely wasted on Sicilians, who have a peculiar aversion to dried fruit, but the British contingent ate it and I'm going to keep making it anyway because I like the aroma as it cooks and it's pretty.

Oh! I almost forgot to tell you I wore my subtle Christmas angel earrings, which I'd found in Catania the week before. They were quite a hit!

Grazie per la festa, Chiara.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Another seasonal offering from Il Volo:

Il Volo - Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Merry Christmas and thank you for reading my blog in 2013!

Il Volo - Bianco Natale

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Hi, folks.  It's Simi here again!

Our tree is ready....

Our table is ready...

Our stockings are ready....

I'm ready because I've had my Christmas haircut and I've got my Christmas jumper on again...

So all we have to do is wait for Santa Paws!

But hang on ... what's this that's suddenly appeared on the tree?

My mummy says I can open it at midnight!

I hope all of you have as much Sicilian pazienza as me!

Now, don't forget, fans - leave some doggy biscuits out for Santa Paws and look after your humans this Christmas!

Merry Xmas and lots of love from

Simi xx woofiewags!

Saturday, December 21, 2013


For a change this week, something from the British charts and a contender for the UK no. 1 spot this Christmas. I have chosen this song because it expresses how I feel at the end of 2013.

Sam Bailey - Skyscraper

Update - 22.12.13: It is officially the UK no. 1 !

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Hi, folks. It's Simi here!

I'm a big girl of 15 today but my mummy keeps telling me I've got more energy than she has!

Today I can do exactly what I like, I get lots of treaties and I can get away with any doggone thing so I'm gonna bark at that ole black poodle down the road and scare a couple of Rottweilers while I'm at it!

Hope you're all having lots of waggies and woofies today too and soon it will be time for Santa Paws to come!

See you at Christmas, fans  - be good!


Simi xxxx woof!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


As I've mentioned before, 2013 has not been a good year for me and I'll be jolly glad to see the back of it. For various reasons, there are a lot of things I can neither do nor have at the moment and in such circumstances, one sometimes loses sight of the things that are possible. So yesterday I reminded myself that a week before Christmas I can sit in the sun on a café terrace and enjoy the juice of a Sicilian orange and some handmade biscuits.

I still love you, Italy!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I am very sorry to have to report tonight that migrants in the "welcome" or "reception" or "detention" - depending on how you perceive it - centre on Lampedusa appear to be suffering inhumane treatment there: Mobile phone footage shot by a Syrian detainee on 13th December shows nude, cold migrants queueing in the courtyard in order to undergo a disinfestation treatment for scabies.

The migrants say that they caught scabies in the detention centre and that they are made to undergo the disinfestation treatment every week. Corriere della Sera is reporting that some survivors of the 3rd October tragedy were among the migrants subjected to the procedure.

The pictures, shown on Tg2 [Italy's Rai 2 news] last night, have caused a national outcry: President of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini has said that the images are unworthy of a civilised country and Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano has vowed to find out who is responsible for the outrage. Giusy Nicolini, the Mayor of Lampedusa, is said to have been appalled by the images, which she has likened to those taken in concentration camps, and has said that the way in which migrants are treated once they reach Italy must change. "This is not what we expect barely two months after all the promises made following the October tragedy", she added.  The Archbissop of Agrigento, monsignor Francesco Montenegro, who is also president of the Commission for Migration of the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana, has said that no emergency situation can justify treatment which ignores human dignity and rights.

The Comitato 3 ottobre agrees with Laura Boldrini and is asking for clarification of the procedures used in migrant detention centres. Amnesty International and Cgil, Italy and Europe's largest trade union, are also asking for urgent clarification. I would like to point out that Laura Boldrini had the humility to thank Tg2 for bringing the situation to the nation's attention. In our criticism of Italy over this matter, we should remember that there are many parliaments in the world which would have lashed out at the media.

Monday, December 16, 2013


In the lovely church of Santa Maria di Betlemme in Modica Bassa there is an exquisite terracotta presepe [crib] made in 1882. It has 66 statuettes and the onlookers at the nativity scene are depicted as Sicilian countrymen and women. It is an absolutely stunning sight.

You will see a crib in nearly every Sicilian home at this time of year and some of the figurines will be family heirlooms. The custom of filling the crib with statuettes dressed in Sicilian costume continues and I think this must make it easier for children to identify with the characters. The Holy Family, though, are depicted traditionally and one figurine, that of the baby Jesus, is not added to the scene until Christmas Eve.
In Sicily the city of Caltagirone is particularly famous for the craftsmanship of its cribs but, as many of you will know, the "crib capital" of Italy is Napoli. The tradition began there in the Baroque era of the 18th century, when the carving of wooden figurines was elevated to an art form.  Now, in the via San Gregorio Armeno, you can find not only traditional figurines and figurines inspired by Italian country life, but representations of politicians, royals and celebrities. 
So who is "in" and who is "out" [literally] in this year's cribs? Well, Silvio Berlusconi, who has been prominent among the figurines for decades, and who was even represented, in the past, alongside figurines of some of the ladies who, at the very least, enjoyed his parties, features less often in 2013. If you must, however, you can still find a figurine of him holding a card declaring, "Sono decaduto" ["I have decayed" and a reference to his decadenza - fall from power]. You can also add the entire Napoli football squad to your decorations and representations - complete with his beloved iPhone - of Matteo Renzi, the Mayor of Florence and recently elected leader of the Democratic Party, are said to be selling well. Figurines of Nelson Mandela are available, as you would expect, but the overall bestsellers this year are figurines of Papa Francesco - a worthy winner, in my opinion.

This year the Archdiocese of Naples has the honour, for the first time, of sponsoring the Vatican's Nativity Scene, which will be unveiled in St Peter's Square on Christmas Eve. The background has been inspired by the Campania countryside and the figurines have been crafted in 18th century Neapolitan tradition by Antonio Cantone of Cantone & Costabile. The scene is entitled Francesco 1223 - Francesco 2013, a reference to the date when St Francis created a living crib in Greccio and, of course, to the current, popular Pope.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Topping the Italian singles charts last week was this thoughtful little song from Giorgia, about what happens and how we feel when a star, or something within us, dies:

Giorgia - Quando una stella muore

Friday, December 13, 2013


Today is the festa of Santa Lucia and, for those of you who do not know her story, here is an edited version of a post of mine about her from 2009:

Santa Lucia was martyred in Siracusa in 304 AD during the Persecution of Diocletian. She is one of my favourite saints, along with St Martin and St Francis, because a feminist reading of her story would lead one to conclude that she was partially condemned for her unconventionality [though I suppose all saints were unconventional].

Lucia consecrated her virginity to God and expressed a wish to give all her worldly goods to the poor. She refused to marry a pagan, but her spurned fiancé had his revenge after Lucia and her mother, Eutychia [or Eutychiaea], visited Catania in the hope that the martyred Sant'Agata of that city would cure Eutychia of a haemorrage. Eutychia was cured and Lucia distributed some of her wealth to the poor, thus incurring the further wrath of her would-be husband, who denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Sicily.

First condemned to become a prostitute, Lucia literally could not be moved, so then her persecutors unsuccessfully tried to burn her. Finally she was decapitated with a sword and the story goes that her eyes were gouged out first. One legend has it that only her eyes remained of her, but there is also a story that her body lay undisturbed in Sicily for 400 years before other relics were dispersed. In art, Santa Lucia is often represented with her eyes on a plate and church-goers in Italy are given tiny pieces of pasta representing her eyes on 13th December.

Other symbols of Santa Lucia are the sword and the palm and she is the protector of electricians, eye specialists and the blind.

A Sicilian proverb tells us,

Da santa Lucia a Natali quant'un passu di cani. 
- From Santa Lucia's Day till Christmas the days lengthen by a dog's step.

Beniamino Gigli - Santa Lucia

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


It may be the festive season for much of the world but that does not mean that the "boatloads of sorrow", containing desperate migrants, have stopped arriving on Sicily's shores. In the past few days, in fact, there has been a marked increase in the number of boats making these dangerous journeys because of temporarily calmer seas.

In the early hours of yesterday Italian naval and Coast Guard vessels saved 1,233 migrants whose boats had got into trouble to the south of Lampedusa. Among these were 118 women, 16 of whom were pregnant, and 65 children. An initial check carried out on board the rescue vessels indicated that the migrants were from Eritrea, Syria, Senegal, Egypt, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Gambia, Guinea, Ghana, Mali and Libya. Almost all said they had wanted to reach Italy in order to study, work or to escape war.

The naval ship the San Marco brought 550 of the migrants to safety in the port of Augusta and the patrol ship the Foscari took 229 poor souls on board and then had to attend another rescue operation which was a difficult one because some of the migrants involved were in poor conditions of health.

Since the launch of Operazione Mare Nostrum, a military-humanitarian mission to avoid further migrant tragedies in the Mediterranean, 5,000 migrants have been saved in the Strait of Sicily and more than 3,000 have been brought to safety on board Italian naval ships.

Running in tandem with Operazione Mare Nostrum is another military initiative, Operazione Strade Sicure Sicilia Occidentale [Safe Streets in Western Sicily] in which army personnel are patrolling the areas around the reception centre and confiscated migrant boats on Lampedusa in an effort to keep both migrants and the citizens of the island safe. On the night of 9th - 10th December Moroccan and Eritrean cultural mediators working with this team managed to calm 50 frightened women and 13 traumatised children who had disembarked from a migrant boat.

May God keep all migrants, and those who rescue and help them, safe this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


It was putting out the Sicilian crib, with both Sicilian and more traditional figurines, which I was given some years ago that did it: I decided I wanted some eastern flavour in my weekend cooking and this is what I came up with:

Ask your butcher for a 500 gr piece of lonza [pork loin] in butcher's netting.  When you get it home, rub it all over as best you can with a cut clove of garlic, some seasoning and some mixed fresh herbs such as thyme and sage - especially thyme. [An Italian butcher will probably do this for you, using his own mixture - trust him!]  Put it in a dish and marinate it in 2 glasses of white wine and 1 tablsp culinary rosewater in the fridge overnight.

About an hour before you want to serve it, put it in a small, foil-lined roasting pan with the marinade and roast for 45 minutes at 180 C. 

Five minutes or so before the end of this time, put 2 tablesp pomegranate molasses and 200 gr frozen mirtilli [which are not blueberries or cranberries as some dictionaries suggest but whortleberries] in a small pan over a low heat. Stir in a few pomegranate seeds and cook, stirring, until the mixture starts to bubble. Now cook and stir the mixture for a further minute. When the 45 mins for the roast are up, pour the mixture over it and cook at 150 C for a further 5 mins.

Let the roast stand for a few minutes, then cut the net off, slice the roast and serve with the mirtilli and their sauce. Sprinkle a few more pomegranate seeds over the slices if you like.

I suggest serving this with herb-roasted potatoes, which can go in the oven at the same time as the roast.

I have no idea whether Balthazar might have eaten pork, by the way!

Monday, December 09, 2013


My friends Roberto and Roberta decided it was time for a good old British-style tea party yesterday, to kick off the festivities in our little circle.  What a spread we enjoyed!

This was Roberta's lovely table:

Of course, there had to be sarnies - with "real" pickle!

There were scrumptious scones as well...

.... and a fruit cake:

The sausage rolls kept beckoning me, as did the mince pies and no one makes brownies like Roberta! Naturally, there were also plenty of cups of "proper" British tea.

Roberta reminded us all to leave room for the trifle, so we did:

Thank you for the festive afternoon, Roberto and Roberta!

Friday, December 06, 2013


From red faces in Napoli earlier this week to red faces in Poland - or at least, there ought to be some!  The publishers of a new Polish guidebook to the island have caused much offence to all decent Sicilians by including the Mafia bosses Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore [Totò] Riina in a section entitled "Eminent Sicilians", reports La Sicilia.

Whatever were the authors thinking of? How did the editors, employees of a publishing house in the city of Gliwice, let this pass? Right there, on the same page as the entry on the author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is a long entry on Provenzano and Riina appears alongside the Modican Nobel laureate Salvatore Quasimodo. Do the compilers really imagine that the island counts these criminals among its greatest citizens?  Furthermore, do they think people want to come here to follow their trail? What about Sicily's creativity, cuisine, history and outstanding beauty? One can only hope that Poles reading this guidebook have the sense to throw it into the nearest bin, where it belongs.

In the next few days there is to be a conference on Sicilian tourism in Taormina and among the delegates will be the Sicilian Region's Councillor for Tourism, Michela Stancheris.  You can bet that this book will be on the agenda!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


As I reminded Lidl Italia [because I want to know when they are going to get some dried cranberries in] on twitter this morning, it is nearly Christmas and that means it is time for Il Sole 24 Ore to publish their annual Quality of Life in Italy survey.

The figures, which came out on Monday, ranked Italian cities according to six criteria: standard of living, business and work, environmental and health services, population, public order and free time. According to the results, the top ten cities to live in in Italy are:

1.  Trento
2.  Bolzano
3.  Bologna
4.  Belluno
5.  Siena
6.  Ravenna
7.  Florence
8.  Macerata
9.  Aosta
10. Milan

Rome is in 20th position and Turin, surprisingly, in 52nd. These are the Sicilian results, with last year's ranking in brackets:

84.  Ragusa  [81]
88.  Enna  [87]
89.  Siracusa  [88]
91.  Messina  [94]
96.  Agrigento [95]
98.  Trapani  [103]
100. Caltanissetta  [105]
101. Catania  [90]
106. Palermo  [99]

Ragusa at least has the comfort of being top of the Sicilian list! There is little comfort for Naples and its province, coming in last at 107th, and still less for the city's beleaguered Mayor, Luigi de Magistris who, on the same day as the figures were published, was hosting Transport and Infrastructure Minister Maurizio Lupi and other dignitaries at a ceremony to open the new Garibaldi metro station. Just as the party were taking the escalator to the top level of the station, the wretched contraption decided to break down, leaving all to walk up the many stairs and not a few red faces.

Never mind, Napoli - I'm sure Julia still loves you:

Monday, December 02, 2013


I can't say I'm feeling very festive and, as even stores here do not usually decorate until the 8th December holiday, I have not been in a hurry to get started. However, I've noticed a few shops getting ready earlier this year and now that my neighbour across the way has got her glittering snowmen in her windows, through which I can glimpse her tree sparkling away, I suppose I had better get on with it.

Thoughts turn, too, to Christmas baking and yesterday I decided to give a trial run to Rachel Allen's Raspberry Upside-Down Cake, a recipe which appears in the Christmas edition of Good Housekeeping UK. I used frozen raspberries, as that is the only kind you can get here in any season and, as we cannot get self-raising flour, added two sachets of vanilla-flavoured lievito [raising] powder. I must say that, once I had finished bashing my head on the cupboard shelves trying to find the right pan, this was a very easy cake to make.

OK, I probably overdid the pink icing sugar and the star shape I'd wanted to create in the middle went a bit wonky but the cake sliced up very nicely and my students today thought it was great!


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