Monday, November 06, 2017


Well, I've had a bit of a blogging hiatus and I expect regular readers will be wondering how Bertie-Pierrine is. She's fine, thank you, but, like her mummy, she's not really keen on certain mornings:

The rest of the time, though, she's exceedingly waggy and can even do it to order:

She's an incredibly sociable dog and enjoyed herself immensely last night at the opening of my friend Tiziana's new premises for her very successful pet shop Le 4 Zampe. There were lots of both human and doggie friends there and you could hear excited barking and yapping all the way down our extremely long street! Doesn't Tiziana look glamorous?

Well done, Bertie-Pierrine for being a good girl at the party and lots of good wishes to Tiziana for her new shop.

Saturday, November 04, 2017


With thanks, as always, to the wonderful Mimi Lenox for her year-round work for this day.

Laura Pausini - Il mondo che vorrei

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Can there be anyone who doesn't like Baci Perugina? I often buy just one in the bar, to see, from the saying or proverb inside, if this will be the day that my life changes!

But now they are even more interesting for, in their first special edition, they come with the sayings or proverbs in nine Italian dialects (with translations into standard Italian). The dialects are:  Pugliese, Genoese, Milanese, Roman, Venetian, Piedmontese, Neapolitan, Sicilian (I am glad to say) and, of course, Perugian.  You can't see from the blue and silver wrapping which dialect is represented in your bacio and so far, in the mixed bag I bought, I have found four sayings in Sicilian dialect. I'll just have to keep eating baci to find more!

I'm sorry the example of a saying below isn't very clear, but you will get the idea:

"He who expresses himself well, crosses the sea."

According to a survey carried out by the Perugina company, millennials are very keen to learn the dialect of their own area and I applaud this delightful way of helping them.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Every cook, I imagine, has a favourite chocolate refrigerator cake recipe and this one, which I came across a few weeks ago, has now become mine. I did add glacé cherries and I "Sicilianised" it by using three different flavours of Modican chocolate (lemon, Zibibbo wine and cinnamon last time). As it is the season, I also added six chopped sticks of the candied orange peel so lovingly made at home or by hand in the pasticcerie here. Go on, try it!

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Summer has officially ended and, whilst I am not a beachy person and rejoice in everything at last being open again, I will be sorry to see the end of the gelato season and of its companions cremolate and granite.

Left to right:  granita di mandarino; cremolata di gelsi (mulberry); granita di pesche e fichi d'India
(peaches and prickly pear, the latter being a late summer addition to the granita repertoire)

My favourite peaches,  pesche tabbacchierie, get larger and less sweet as August ends but then these delights appear:

Centre:  frutta di Martorana
Right: "cakes" of cotognata (quince paste)

Finally, I cannot let the summer end without sharing this with you:  the other day, a Sicilian friend said he had spotted a British man coming out of the B&B opposite his house. I asked how he had known the man was British.

"Because he was wearing sandals and socks", came the reply.
Embed from Getty Images

Monday, September 18, 2017


I'm sorry there's been a bit of a break - blame the relentless heat, even for Sicily, this summer and, quite posibly, ageing!

Anyway, what better way to kickstart the blog again than with music? This is fabulous and comes from the Celebrity Fight Night Concert with Andrea Bocelli in Rome last week, where millions were raised for the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Centre. 

I am sure you will join me in wishing the tenor well, as he was briefly hospitalised after a fall from his horse on Thursday.  He says he is fine and will travel to Jordan for a concert on Monday.

Andrea Bocelli and guests at Celebrity Fight Night 2017 - Imagine

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


I just thought I'd let you all know that true love is alive and well in Sicily:

I don't know why the sea turned pink in the second photo - perhaps it knows fuschia is my favourite colour!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


On the eve of the first anniversary of the horrific 24th August earthquake in Central Italy, it is sad indeed to be writing about another quake, this time on the Neapolitan island of Ischia. The quake, which struck on Monday, killed two women and 39 people have been injured, some seriously.

As always, when there is such a tragedy, there is also heroism and courage and the video of firemen rescuing a seven-month-old baby who had been trapped for seven hours went around the world. Who could watch it and not cry? Later the baby's brother, eight-year-old Mattias, was rescued and finally, after 16 hours, the third brother, 11-year-old Ciro, who had saved his siblings by pushing them under a bed. Firemen kept talking to Ciro throughout the rescue operation and at one point he asked a fireman, "Do you love me?" "Yes, I love you", came the reply. "Then come", said Ciro and come they did. Interviewed in hospital today, Ciro said he had thought he would die but that when he was pulled out and saw the light, knew that God exists. All three boys are said to be in a good condition and, though Ciro has a fractured foot, he hopes to be playing football again soon. His pregnant mother, who was in another room when the quake struck, is also well and his father is with them.

Meanwhile, today in Amatrice, the town which was literally half wiped out by last year's quake, a statue honouring a very special dog is being inaugurated. Camilla, a border collie working with the Ligurian Fire Brigade, died in the line of duty in June. In the days following the quake, she helped save dozens of people trapped in the rubble and Amatrice will never forget her. Her statue is also dedicated to all the search and rescue dogs who were deployed during that distressing time.

Let us think of all who have been affected by earthquakes and all - human or canine - who work to help them, wherever they are in the world, over the next few days.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


My friend Carol King, who has recently returned to Sicily, and I decided to celebrate Ferragosto a day late this year, so I kind of cooked her a little meal:

The antipasti included olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh datterini tomatoes, mini sausages, bresaola and Parma ham topped with Grana cheese shavings, marinated mushrooms and - I must tell you about this - watermelon with salted cucumber. My original intention was to chuck the cucumber - peeled, deseeded, chopped, salted, left then rinsed, drained and chilled - into the salad but at the last minute I thought it would be a nice addition to the dish of watermelon. Turns out I was right!  The seemingly small apples around the antipasti dishes are actually azzaroli or Neapolitan medlars, which are related to hawthorn. There are mini-pears as well and they are a fine partner for the cheese.

The main course was grilled chicken salad with grilled nectarines. (Yes, I have a thing for grilled nectarines!)   I marinated the chicken in culinary rosewater before grilling and seasoned it with sumac afterwards. I used the dressing I invented for this recipe. The other ingredients were grilled peppers and rocket leaves.

For dessert, I made strawberry tiramisù and Carol brought along the delicious sweet treats on the right.

Everything on this menu can be made in advance and all you have to do is make the antipasti look pretty and assemble the salad.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Top, left to right:  Duomo, Cefalù; looking up from Modica Bassa
Bottom, left to right:  The Madonie; Princess Grace of Monaco depicted in flower petals at Noto Infiorata, 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017


This is the night when Italians look for shooting stars. If you see one, don't forget to make a wish! But don't worry if they don't appear for you tonight - they should be around for a few nights more. Have a happy St Lawrence's night, everyone!

Eros Ramazzotti e Patsy Kensit - La luce buona delle stelle
City of Stars from La La Land

Wednesday, August 02, 2017


Regular readers will know that, at this time of year, I love experimenting with salads and a few years ago I invented a tagliata and cherry version. This week, I decided I wanted something lighter still and I came up with a chicken and cherry salad.  I wanted to use my favourite spice, sumac, and took the wonderful Nadiya Hussain's advice about sprinkling it on the meat after cooking to keep the red colour. Then I added to the red by playing with pink peppercorns. It all turned out rather well but here is my usual warning to Sicilian purists: I never said it was Sicilian; it's just what I do with the ingredients and cuts of meat available to me here and I like including the Middle Eastern ingredients I learnt to use in Britain.  And yes, the dish contains meat and fruit and I'm not apologising!

Chicken and cherry salad

1 chicken breast, cut into escalopes  (That's two chicken breasts, as sold in Britain, where they are sold in halves, and one as sold in Italy. An Italian butcher will auomatically cut them very thin. In Britain you may need to pound them.)
about 30 fat, dark cherries, stoned
half a large cucumber or 1 small one
500 gr bag rocket leaves
5 tablesp culinary rosewater
olive oil
1 tablesp runny honey
Himalayan pink seasalt
1 dessertsp pink peppercorns, crushed
1 teasp ground ginger
1 teasp ground sumac
1 teasp dried herbes de Provence

First, marinate the chicken pieces for 2 hours in 3 tablesp of the rosewater (or marinate overnight).
Peel the cucumber, deseed and chop it as small as you can. Sprinkle with (ordinary] fine seasalt and leave at least 30 mins. (This is a trick I learned from an early Jennifer Paterson book and I always prepare my salad cucumbers like this.) After 30 mins, rinse, drain and let dry on kitchen paper.
Drain the chicken pieces and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cook them over low heat on a lightly oiled ridged griddle pan - about 2 mins per side. Put them on kitchen paper and let them cool.
In a small bowl, mix well with a fork 6 tablesp olive oil, 2 tablesp rosewater, the honey, ground ginger, pink salt if you have it, half the pink peppercorns and the herbes de Provence. Leave in the fridge.
When the chicken has cooled, cut it into bite-sized pieces - I do this with a kitchen scissors - and place them in a bowl.  Sprinkle the sumac over it and add the cucumber, cherries  and rocket. (At this stage you can leave the salad in the fridge till serving time.] When you are ready, add the dressing and toss well.  Finally, sprinkle the rest of the peppercorns over the salad.

Serves four.

Buon appetito

Note:  Sumac does, in theory, grow in Sicily but I have yet to meet anyone who has heard of it here!

Thursday, July 27, 2017


A day in Catania is always a welcome change but when it's 40°C, my first port of call is not my favourite bookshop but the first bar selling yummy-looking gelato (not that it ever looks anything but delicious). The one below, with stracciatella, pineapple and gelsi (mulberry) flavours was particularly so.  I liked the idea of the mini-cones on top, too. Later, when a friend suggested a break in order to partake of a little cassata and iced tea, who was I to refuse?

Friday, July 21, 2017


Palermo has been selected as Italian Capital of Culture 2018 so here, in no particular order, are 18 facts - some quirky, others not so - that you may not know about the city:

1.  Its Palazzo dei Normanni was, from 1130 , the seat of the Sicilian Parliament, one of the oldest in the world. (I've met a lot of Sicilians who claim that it is, in fact, the oldest.] It now houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

2.  In 2016 Palermo was declared the worst city in Italy for traffic congestion.

3.  Frutti di Martorana, the marzipan "fruits" you will see everywhere in Sicily in autumn, were, according to legend, first made in The Martorana Convent in Palermo.

4.  The city's most important Arab and Norman buildings, along with the Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale, were collectively named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.

San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo

5.  Palermo street food is legendary. Eat it first, then ask what's in it!

6.  The Palermo football team's badge has been ranked (by the British Daily Mail) as among the best in the world.

7.  The city has wide boulevards reminiscent of towns in France.

8.  The word for traditional Sicilian rice balls, arancini, is used in its feminine form, arancine there.

9.  The Catacombe dei Cappuccini (Capuchin Catacombs) are a very macabre, and often upsetting, sight but must be seen. I once decided to leave them till last on a school trip but my students, having been shown the Parliament, Cathedral and other beautiful buildings, were impatiently demanding, "Can we go and see the dead people now?" by mid-morning.

Me with students in Palermo, 1995

10. The city is second only to Naples for the number of coffee manufacturers that call it home (47 in 2011).

11. During the reign of Ruggero (Roger) II, Palermo was a city in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side in harmony. This was to come to an end, however, under Frederick II, who expelled the Muslims in 1224.

12.  In 1185 Roger's daughter and Frederick's mother Costanza d'Altavilla (Constance d'Hauteville) travelled to Germany to be married with the greatest dowry the world had ever seen. She gave birth to her son in the market square in Ancona on her way back to Sicily. You can read more about this extraordinary journey in a book I reviewed here. Costanza is buried in Palermo Cathedral.

13.  Palermo has a museum of traditional puppets  (opera dei pupi) where you can also see puppet shows at certain times of the year.  You can find out more about opera dei pupi in my post here.

Some of my own Sicilian puppets

14.  Traditional Sicilian carts vary, from province to province, in their design and size. Those from Palermo were squarer and wider than many of the others and were originally used for transporting grapes. This is a link to an article on Sicilian carts that I wrote for Italy Magazine in 2010.

15. Not strictly in the City of Palermo but in Palermo Province and a short bus ride away is Monreale, whose cathedral, begun in 1174, is one of the best preserved examples of Norman architecture anywhere. It contains Byzantine mosaics throughout. There are stunning views of Palermo from Monreale.

16. In 2014 the priests of Palermo Cathedral were much criticised for displaying a prominent WC sign in a side chapel there. I don't know about you, but when being a tourist I've often desperately needed the loo by the time I got to a city's cathedral!

17.  Palermo was named Panormus ("complete port" or possibly "well-protected bay") by the Greeks, This became Balarme under Arabic rule.

18.  To end on a sombre note, Palermo Airport, formerly known as Punta Raisi, was renamed in 1995 in honour of the anti-Mafia judges Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone who were both murdered in 1992, the latter along with his wife. The airport's full name is now L''aeroporto Internazionale Falcone e Borsellino di Palermo-Punta Raisi but it is usually referred to as aeroporto Falcone e BorsellinoItaly has been remembering the two judges in this, the 25th anniversary year of the stragi (massacres) of Capaci and via D'Amelio. We must not forget that all but one of their bodyguards died with them on those terrible days.

The candidates for Italian Capital of Culture 2020 are Agrigento, Catania, Messina, Noto, Ragusa and Siracusa. Guess which two I'll be rooting for!

City of Palermo
Coat of Arms


View My Stats