Thursday, November 30, 2006


This baking powder was hiding on a high shelf in one of the supermarkets today. It's the first time I've seen the product here. There are alternatives, of course, in the form of sachets of vanilla-flavoured lievito per dolci, and these obviously work well as the pastry chefs here are superb. But I always end up with the contents of half the sachet left over. Besides, it's nice, occasionally, to cook with what you are used to!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


The elderly gentleman who lives across the street strolls down the road every morning, at the same time as I am taking Simi out. He always greets us kindly, then turns off in the opposite direction. As we are returning, we see him again, clutching a carrier bag and looking very pleased with himself. I've been here long enough to recognise the kind of smile that results from having acquired some excellent food for yourself somewhere so this morning, reader, I followed him. The trail led to the fresh pasta shop, a treasure trove indeed, and I brought back booty in the form of these delightful ravioli di zucca = pumpkin ravioli.


These are especially for Liz, who had a bad day yesterday - some chocolate biscuits, Sicilian style!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I mentioned some time ago that I have been caught out in the matter of health care cover here but did not go into detail. I do so now for three reasons: to point out the absurdity of the rules, to warn others and to ask if any readers have more information.

As I understand it, if you move from the UK to another EU country and are not of state pension age, your entitlement to health care in the new country depends on your UK National Insurance contributions over the last three years. For health reasons, I retired from secondary school teaching ten years ago and since then have worked virtually full-time in adult education, but at an hourly rate. My NI contributions have entitled me to health care here, under Form E106, from July 2005 to January 2007. Even if my contributions had been higher, my entitlement would have ceased in July 2007 as two years is the longest period of cover you can receive under Form E106, unless you are in receipt of UK disability or incapacity benefit or similar. After that period, you are on your own! [You may be covered again when you reach state pensionable age but in my case that is unlikely as I will not receive a full state pension.] So it is that an EU citizen can find himself / herself without health cover within the EU. [If you are working in the new country, it is not a problem, I understand, but again, what would happen upon retirement?]

This state of affairs appears to me to be both unjust and ridiculous as if I were in the UK and not working my entitlement to state health care would not depend on previous NI contributions [though eligibility for health benefits would, but that is a different matter] . My beef is that I taught for twenty-three years in the nation's schools and the situation I was in eventually made me ill. I pulled myself back from that illness and sought other employment, the irony being that, had I been claiming incapacity benefit , I would have cover here now. Another irony is that, if I were a non-EU citizen, I could simply pay the Italian State 700 - 800 euros per annum - which I would be perfectly happy to do - and receive cover. Now it seems that I will have to take out private health insurance which I cannot really afford. So much for equal rights for EU citizens within the EU!!

It is important to point out that none of this is due to failures or bureaucracy within the Italian system. Indeed, all the officials I have spoken to have been as mystified by the rules as I am and have done all in their power to help. The fault lies within the bureaucracy and administration of the EU.

Does anyone out there have more information? Have people elsewhere been caught out? [My internet reading suggests that they have.] Can anyone suggest a solution?

I am aware that some American readers will have a different attitude towards private health insurance and can only say that British people do not expect to have to purchase it!

Sunday, November 26, 2006


An unexpected invitation to lunch with Marco and Giovanna today. Here are trays of Giovanna's wonderful breads.


Remember the green squash vegetable I showed you 10 days or so ago? Yesterday I added some to this stew of veal, pancetta, shallots and sage. It turned out very well and I was surprised at how quickly the sliced vegetable became tender when fried. Ellee asked me what it tastes like; it tastes, well, squashy!


Here is a dish of the finished olive schiacciate. They have been in their marinade of olive oil, orange and lemon peel and herbs for a week now and they taste very good. From Chris Stewart's latest book, I got the idea of adding harissa to the mixture [not Sicilian but it is available here].


It seems I dozed my way through an earthquake tremor at about 05.30 on Friday: I heard some strange creaking and Simi barked, but I put the activity down to some goings-on in the flat upstairs!

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I bought some Christmas cards at the "religious" shop along the road this morning and, while I was at it, also purchased this tome which will tell me, day by day, all about the lives of the saints. I'm not Catholic or even religious. It's just that I think that, as I am living in a Catholic country, I should absorb as much as I can about that side of the culture, too. I had a long chat with the shop owner and we agreed that the book must have necessitated a fair amount of research as there is a reproduction of a painting of each saint and these cannot have been easy to find in all cases. Some readers may not be aware that people here are much more likely to celebrate their onomastico or "name day" [the day of the saint they are named after] than their birthdays. For those of you who are interested, I have learnt that today is the day of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
Christmas cards are quite expensive here as you have to buy them singly [in Britain you can just get a boxful at the supermarket for about £1.99 - or has the price gone up?] and the only charity cards available are UNICEF ones which you have to purchase at the post office. Needless to say, I am not queueing in that dreadful place to buy them!
I can't get over, either, how miserable the Italians are regarding Christmas cards: on the whole, they just don't bother, preferring to ring their acquaintances to offer the compliments of the season. Now there's something I miss: sitting by the fire on a cold, British evening and writing my Christmas cards! My "to send to Britain" list is considerably reduced this year as I have ruthlessly crossed out all the people who didn't send me a card from there last year, including a friend who gave birth on 24th December. A little thing like that is no excuse, honey, as if you were going to send a card to Italy, you'd have had to do it before that date! I, as you see, am not miserable at all and am full of charity and Christmas spirit!


Here are the mirticci berries I showed you last week, steeping away in gin and sugar. Today I added some black myrtle berries [bilberries] to improve the colour. Just like when you make sloe gin in Britain, you need a little pazienza to prick all the berries with a needle or cocktail stick. After a couple of months, I'll strain it through muslin e vediamo - and we shall see!


Etna has been extremely angry lately and you can see pictures of yesterday's volcanic activity here. Yesterday the airport at Catania had to be closed because the pilots would not have been able to see through the cloud of black ash. It reopened this morning but may have to close again this evening. When you fly in to Fontanarossa from Britain, you usually get a clear view of the volcano and I still think it's a stunning sight as you come out of the airport, as it looks as if it is right on top of you. Last night there was seismic activity in the sea off Catania, Siracusa, Lampedusa and as near as Ragusa. I haven't yet found any black ash on the balcony rails, though friends here say it does, very occasionally, happen. [Catania is about 2 hours from Modica.]

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thursday, November 23, 2006


We've been "tagged" twice today, that is, I've been tagged by Ellee and Simi has been tagged by Liz. So I'll do mine first as Simi is still having a think. [She is very honoured to be tagged and sends love and wags to Harvey.]

1. Not love my dog.
2. Go out without my lipstick on. [I could fill up the next 3 by substituting mascara / perfume / earrings for lipstick but that's not in the spirit of the thing, so I won't.]
3. Take up a sport.
4. Throw out or give away a book I have read. ["I am what I've read" - that's my motto!]
5. Watch reality shows.
6. Touch a spider.
7. Do another day's supply teaching in a British secondary school. [Paper and books are thrown at you, you are sworn at and even threatened and if that's all that happens you are having a good day. On the last occasion when I let myself in for this type of rehearsal for hell there were 5 of us supplies in the school: one walked out in disgust at morning break, one did the same at lunchtime, one fainted and the other fell down the stairs drunk! I was the only one who lasted the day and I swore, "never again".]
8. Let my hair go grey. [I haven't seen my natural colour since I was about 14 so why start now?!]
9. Stop loving Italy.
10. Conform!

I now tag Liz and Laugh More, Love More.

Ok, here's Simi's:
I'm not weird at all but my mummy thinks I am when I:

1. Shake my rope toy at her when she is in the bath. [I only want her to hurry up so I can have my walk!]
2. Bark at motorbikes. [Well, there are so many of them in Italy and I want a ride on one!]
3. Decide I want a game of "tug" at 6 am. [She never seems all that pleased when I do that!]
4. Hide from lorries when we are out. [I'm a lot lower down than my mummy and they spit things from under their wheels!]

5. Bark at cars that use my street. ["You don't own it", she says. - That's what she thinks!]
6. Oh, and she thinks it's uncanny that I can tell the time perfectly. Humans just can't work out how we dogs do it! As my new friend Harvey says, they're not as intelligent as us!

We're not sure which bloggers we know like to be tagged but we think Ellee ['cos she says nice things about me] and Bonnie ['cos I like Mojo the bulldog] won't mind.

Oh! That reminds me! My mummy and I wish all American dogs and humans a Happy Thanksgiving!


The bancomat [cash dispenser / ATM] machine at my branch was broken this morning. I didn't have time to go to another bank as I had an all-important facial appointment [ at my age, a girl needs all the help she can get! ] so I went inside and dutifully joined the queue. There was only one clerk on and everything was taking ages - not as long as in the post office but nowhere is as bad as the post office - when in comes an elegantly dressed and coiffured lady who ignores the queue and demands of the clerk the reason why the machine is not working. I am always gobsmacked when someone does this when a clerk or sales assistant is attending to another customer, and this in Italy where in other circumstances people are so polite; I am even more amazed when the clerk takes any notice of the interruption. The woman's yelling gained her the attention of the manager, who attended to her personally, so she got her cash before I did, although I'd been waiting in the queue for ten minutes. Mad.
Having a facial reminded me how much I miss department stores. There are plenty of small beauty parlours and perfumeries but I just miss browsing all the make-up stands and talking to a consultant who really knows her own brand. Every now and then a perfumery here will ring me to say that "viene 'la beauty' di [name of make-up company]" and then you can have a complimentary consultation or make-up but it is not the same. Never mind: I've had a "hot stones" facial and feel better!


Although it is extolled by TV and other chefs in Britain, I never thought much of pancetta [Italian cured bacon] as an ingredient when I was there. For most recipes, I felt that British streaky bacon could do the job better. But the pancetta available here is a completely different story as it is excellent: cubed, it makes a good addition to beef-based casseroles, in particular, and imparts a delicious flavour to pasta sauces. Sliced, I like to use the smoked variety to wrap around chicken thigh fillets which I will have filled with lemon and herbs.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Hello, folks, it's Simi! Our weather has changed so my mummy has bought me another new coat, especially for the rain. I think I look a very smart dog in it. Last night we had our first storm for a month so I had to look after my mummy. She says it's all right but I know she's scared. She should just bark at the thunderclaps, like me!

But humans are awfully peculiar, sometimes. The other day when we were out a man stopped us to ask mummy if I bite. I looked sweet but I was thinking, "Only if you lay a hand on her!" Mummy explained that I am friendly and then he said, "Get away from me - you're scaring me!" As my mummy muttered, why did he stop and talk to us, then? Although most people we meet when we go for a walk talk to me and pet me now, I've noticed that these Italian humans are more wary of dogs in general than British people are. And when they come to the house they don't want their faces washed. They don't seem to like having their heads sat upon, either! I suppose it takes all sorts of humans, just as it takes all sorts of dogs, to make a world....

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


... I was served these charming little fancies. The ones at the back are encased in coloured chocolate.


A selection of roasted meats, served at the Altro Posto today.

Monday, November 20, 2006


An article in yesterday's Telegraph Online about the difficulties of using public transport with a babby buggy started me thinking about the design of buses here. There is no space whatsoever for buggies or wheelchairs, no lowering floor and the steps are incredibly steep. The only way you could get a buggy on would be to fold it up and then you would have to get up and down the precarious steps whilst carrying a baby. The only times I have seen women attempt it have been when they have been accompanied by friends or family to help them and even then the manoeuvres have been difficult for them. I don't know how the town gets away with this virtual denial of public transport access to some of its citizens and there is a similar problem of disabled access at tourist sites as many of the churches are perched at the top of high flights of steps. I have, as yet, seen no ramps. This surprises me as you would think there would be, at the very least, an EU directive on the issue.

When a new bus design is thought up, matters do not improve as one or two buses here lately have a different configuration and it is, if anything, worse: the steps are even steeper, the machine where you validate your ticket is next to the driver's seat so there is nothing for you to hold on to as you do it [whilst the bus is taking some hair-raising bends] and the door by which you are meant to leave the bus is very narrow, at the back, and marked "Vietato uscire" [= "no exit"]! This last worried me, being law-abiding and British, but in the end I just followed everyone else out. But I was amused, the other day, to see a lady refuse to use that door. Even I could tell, from her attire and her accent, that she was from the mainland and she wasn't going to be told what to do by a provincial bus driver, oh, no! When she made to exit by the front door [by which a crowd of people were already entering] and he asked her to use the back, she said she wouldn't as "No exit" was written there, that she wasn't going to disobey the notice - words which warmed the cockles of my British heart - and then she waited till all the new passengers had entered and calmly left via the front door, causing everyone but me to raise their arms in the air and utter - you guessed it! - "pazienza".

A few months ago I was getting off a bus, laden with shopping bags, and was half-way down the steps when the driver, obviously out of pazienza that day, closed the door on me and made off, trapping my arm and some of my bags still inside! I was pulled along for what could only have been a few seconds, though it was quite terrifying, and then luckily some students came along and shouted to alert the driver. OK, the driver had been careless and had not checked in his mirror that all the passengers were off but the design of the bus didn't help, either. The incident has made me a bit nervous and Linda says if I've got a load of bags that are going to slow me down again, I should yell, "Un attimo, mentre scendo!" [= "Just a minute, while I get off!"] and I have a couple of times, but it's so un-British to draw attention to yourself in that way!

As I have remarked so many times on other people's blogs when public transport is discussed, it seems to me that, wherever you are, the trouble is that the people who plan, design and oversee it don't have to use it on a regular basis.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


... or mortidda, I am told, in Sicilian dialect.

I didn't really know what to do with these, but as regular readers will know by now, I'll experiment with any new food! So I phoned a friend to find out and learnt that they are really just a staple, eaten as they are, at the Christmas table. They taste a bit like blueberries but are seedier. Another friend here plonks one or two of them into your gin and tonic, along with the ice. I am going to pour gin over this lot, add a couple of clementine leaves, leave it all for a month or two and see what happens. I'll let you know!

Irma gave me some myrtle berries [bilberries or whortleberries] so I substituted them for part of the weight of apples in an apple chutney recipe and it has turned out rather well. For American readers who may not know of chutney, it is a little like your salsa, but much thicker and it is a preserve. The colonial British invented it when they discovered Indian fruits and spices.

Friday, November 17, 2006


I spotted my first fur coat of the season today. These are donned like a uniform once we get into winter and seeing them always amazes me. In Britain you would probably be attacked in the street if you wore a real fur and not even the women of the Royal Family wear them any more. You certainly could not openly advertise a furrier's establishment as is done here. I am, in this, a product of my own culture and time and am firmly against the making and wearing of these garments.


At my request, the Altro Posto prepared one of my favourite dishes, scaloppine di vitello ai funghi [veal escalopes with mushrooms] today. In Britain veal is very expensive and there is an issue about whether it is right to eat it but in Italy it is popular and not costly.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


This is what I look at when I am waiting for the bus to come back up from Modica Bassa. I gaze at the elegant balconies in the first photo and try to imagine who lives in the houses in the second one and what their lives are like. It's a pity about the wires and there is a petrol station below but then, you can't have everything.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


This is a new vegetable for me and the lady in the greengrocer's says they can be peeled, sliced and fried or peeled and cut into chunks for casseroles.


... of hanging sheets on the balcony clothesline. Mine always get tangled around the line like this. The Italian women hang them straight down with very little material overlapping the inner side of the line and, surprisingly, they don't blow away. It's a matter of nerve, I've decided.

Years ago, in the Italian Alps, my best dress blew off the balcony line late one evening. I was quite frantic but, "Pazienza - we'll find it in the morning", counselled my Italian friends and we did. I don't fancy chasing my sheets down the main road here, though!

I don't have a picture of my neighbours' perfectly hung sheets for you as it would cause a lot of head-shaking and talk if I were to attempt to take one. They probably already think I am mad, having observed me photographing my own washing!


Italy is one of the countries most affected by climate change and Sicily is one of the areas most at risk of drying out and eventually becoming a desert, I read in La Sicilia yesterday [article not available online]. The island was, it is thought, at one time joined to Africa and at the Museo Archeologico di Siracusa you can see evidence that there were once dwarf elephants here.

The whole of Italy is now deemed to be an earthquake zone and southeastern Sicily is particularly at risk [information which cheers me up no end, as you can imagine]. I experienced an earthquake tremor here not long after Christmas and it was the oddest sensation: first of all the bookshelves attached to the wall creaked and I thought, "Oh, no, I've overloaded them and they're going to fall down". Then the room went sort of wavy - just like the opening to a dream sequence in a film used to be - and the walls seemed to shift and yet not shift. I immediately knew what it was, and kind Irma rang to ask if I'd been frightened. I hadn't had time to be, really, as it was over in seconds. The epicentre had been Athens, apparently. Linda says such tremors are common here and that you feel them more when you are inside than out and about.
Today we are officially allowed to switch the heating on, until mid-March. [In northern Italy the "switch-on date" was a month or so earlier. ] Every town has its own regulations about this and I wrote about them in my first article about climate. These limitations, we are told, form part of Italy's effort to combat global warming.


We have just had a water fill-up, an event which has caused quite a bit of commotion in the street. First of all, I had to go down and open the barrier across the condominio parking space and, as the lift in this building is not the fastest in Europe, by the time Simi and I got down there the water-lorry-man was already trying to make good his escape, so I am waving the barrier keys, Simi is barking and I am desperately yelling, "Signore, aspetti, per favore!" [= "Please wait!"] No sooner had I got the barrier open than the driver realised he would not be able to back the lorry in, as a car was parked just across the narrow street and another was partially parked across the entrance. So then there was a lot of beeping, throwing up of arms in the air and saying of "Ma..." [= "But.." said rather hopelessly] to draw the attention of the owners of these two cars. In the meantime, two couples had come from up and down the street to ask the water man where their supply was and this, in turn, brought the people of three floors of the palazzo opposite out onto their balconies to chime in. At last the car-owners arrived and moved their vehicles but by this time the barrier had automatically shut again, just as the water man was backing in, so out rushed the lady in the block next door to shout at him to be careful. [I had my back to him as I was reopening the barrier.]

So what with the revving of the water lorry engine, the loud gushing of the water through the lorry's pipes down to the cistern, the continuing beeping, everybody raising their voices above the din to tell their own "water story" to the gathered listeners and last, but certainly not least, Simi barking merrily away, a very noisy half-hour was had, providing the street entertainment of the day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


A British "Sunday roast" is not a meal that appeals to me, or ever has. But I do like this way of roasting chicken: it is a recipe I have evolved over the years and it is a mixture of Greek, French and Italian ideas, the Sicilian touch being the addition of oranges and that is my excuse for including the recipe here. I get some funny looks at the butcher's when I say that I want my chicken left whole [only without the head, with which it is usually displayed here] as Italians don't go in for roasts. I get the same look if I say I want a chicken breast left whole, not cut a filetti as the Italian women like it. Sometimes it takes ages to get served in the butcher's, especially at the weekend, as the Italians [and there are almost always as many men as women in the shop, an indication of the importance of choosing good food here] buy so many different types of meat and it all has to be done a filetti. Then they want their amazing lengths of sausage as well. I pass the time by trying to guess just how many people each customer can be planning to feed! A recent poll showed that the gathering together of the whole family for Sunday lunch is still a respected tradition in Italy.
Here is the recipe for my Mediterranean Chicken:
Fill the chicken cavity with a lemon cut into quarters, 2 or 3 unpeeled cloves of garlic and fresh herbs of your choice. I especially like to use a sprig of lavender if I have it, and usually put in some sage, parsley, a bay leaf, oregano [which can be used dried], a little basil, rosemary and thyme, plus lemon balm if available but use whatever you have and like. Sprinkle the cavity with seasalt and black pepper, then secure it closed with cocktail sticks or wooden skewers. Next rub the outside of the chicken all over with fine seasalt and sprinkle over some chopped rosemary. [Some will fall off but it doesn't matter.] Then brown the chicken on all sides in 2 - 3 tablespoons of olive oil. [I use a wok for this.] Transfer the chicken to a roasting pan and pour the oil over it, together with any bits of salt and rosemary that you have scraped out. Roast the chicken for 40 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180 C. Meanwhile, slice some old potatoes [don't bother to peel them] and sprinkle some black pepper and thyme over them. Slice 1 or 2 oranges. When the 40 minutes are up, baste the chicken, then add the potatoes and orange slices to the tin, turning them in the oil. I usually add a tablespoon more of oil at this stage. Roast it all for about another hour, basting every 15 minutes. Carve the chicken, lift the potatoes and orange slices out with a slotted spoon and serve. You need only a salad to accompany this. Both the chicken and the potatoes taste good cold the next day and I use the carcass to make stock.

Monday, November 13, 2006


It rained softly last night but otherwise our estate di San Martino or Indian summer continues. It gets its name because St Martin, seeing a poor, old man in threadbare clothes one freezing winter's day, tore his own cloak in half with his sword and gave half to the man. At that moment, there was a burst of brilliant sunshine.
San Martino falls on the 11th November. British readers might be interested to know that Armistice Day is not observed here, but Liberation Day [April 25th] is a holiday. I was pleased to be able to watch the Cenotaph ceremony in full on Sky yesterday morning. [BBC World screened only clips from it.] At one stage the commentator pointed out that the leaves were still on the trees in London - very unusual for this time of year there - and I reflected that global warming is probably the cause of both that phenomenon and this uncommonly long estate di San Martino.


Prickly pear [fichi d'India] growing in the garden of an abandoned villa and on sale from a barrow this morning.
The citrus fruit was on sale from the same barrow at €1.50 for 2 kilos - cheap, indeed, by UK standards. For new readers this reminds me that I began this blog with a post entitled "Tangerine Land".

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Of all the wonderful breads available in Sicily, I think pane arabo is my favourite: the name conjures up exotic images of Sicily's past and it is a very versatile bread which makes a good accompaniment to meals, can be used in salads and makes great sandwiches. If you are not familiar with Italy, you may not know that butter or margarine-type spreads are never used in sandwiches, though some are moistened with olive oil, and butter is never served with bread at the table. There are no bread plates or knives, either; you just break off what you want and let the crumbs fall on the tablecloth.


This is the Altro Posto's dolce diplomatico, layers of sponge cake soaked in culinary jasmine water and containing pistacchi, candied fruit and other delights. I wonder if enemies, being served this pudding, could make peace as its name suggests?

Friday, November 10, 2006


I did enjoy a light-hearted article [not available online] on the front page of La Sicilia today in which the journalist laments the fact that the Alitalia air hostesses have won a long battle over uniform: from now on, from October to April, they will be allowed to wear trousers and more sensible, warm shoes. [It seems that the Italian hostesses have really been feeling the cold when they land in London or Moscow in winter.] The writer complains that on domestic flights there is no longer any bar or meal service, there are no free newspapers and not even a coffee is offered. And now the men can't while away the time by looking at the hostesses' legs!

It amused me because it is probably the kind of article that you couldn't get away with publishing in Britain. Ellee has an interesting post on the consequences there of political correctness.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


I'm a terrible one for ornaments, having had 912 of the things brought over from Britain. [I know the number because I had to count them for the inventory.] Now here is another one to add to the collection, this time a replica of a Sicilian dry -stone wall.

Although I am Welsh, I spent much of my youth in Gloucestershire, a county renowned for its dry-stone walls. So perhaps that is another reason why I felt instantly at home in the landscape of Sicily.
Here the dry-stone walls were used to mark boundaries and to keep wolves away. I think they have a beauty all of their own and I am glad that the tradition has not been allowed to die out. An ancient olive or carob tree, or a bush of fichi d'India [prickly pear] surrounded by one of these walls is a peaceful sight indeed.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Like millions of Britons, I breathed a long sigh of relief at precisely 8.15 Italian time [7.15 in the UK] last night at the end of the 15,000th episode of The Archers, the long-running radio soap. Ruth, one of the main characters, was about to deceive her husband and was on her way to meet slimeball Sam in a hotel, then at the very last minute decided she couldn't go through with it. [I can't stand the Ruth character or her irritating accent, so why do I care? I don't know; I just do.] Well, the episode drove me to drink and I swear I could hear a collective "Thank god for that" all the way from Britain as the closing music came on! [The goings-on in The Archers get newspaper headlines in Britain, you have to understand, and the storylines are hotly debated. There are Archers history books, Archers cookbooks, Archers mousemats and Archers everything.]
"But what bearing does all this have on your life in Sicily?" I hear you ask. Ah, I'm coming to that: of all the things I miss, I think radio 4 is at the top of the list. Yes, I can get it on the internet, but that is not the same as having it on as a background while you are cooking, reading, working or whatever. Radio 4 has been my "aural wallpaper" all my life and I can even remember when it was called the "Home Service". There is nothing like those authoritative voices delivering world news, nothing like the "pips" at 1pm, nothing like the chimes of Big Ben at 6pm and certainly nothing as comforting as the Shipping Forecast followed by the lovely tune, "Sailing By". Yes, I do know you can download some programmes onto an Ipod but I don't have one and that seems a time-consuming process to me. As I've said before, I find it absurd that I can receive so many UK TV channels, yet cannot receive this channel which is such a mainstay of British political and cultural life via a conventional or shortwave radio, all because of the UK licence fee!
Anyway, if you ever wonder what I am doing here in Sicily, dear readers, I can tell you exactly what I am doing on Monday to Friday and Sunday evenings at 8pm Italian time: I am sitting here at the computer with my headphones on [so that I can have the volume up as loud as I like; you really can hear everything your neighbours are doing in Italian flats, because of the tiled floors] tuning into The Archers and huffing and puffing or nodding at the storylines just like so many of my compatriots. And you can bet the phone or doorbell will ring right in the middle of this precious quarter an hour! [Never mind, there's always the next afternoon's repeat or the Sunday omnibus edition!]

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


- or "bashed olives". This is Linda's treatment for freshly picked olives:

Bash the olives [not too enthusiastically] with a stone, rolling pin or whatever you have to hand. Don't do this near a clean wall or with your best clothes on as they squirt everywhere. [I have just found this out to my cost.] Put them in a plastic container, cover with water and add a handful of coarse seasalt. You should change the salt and water solution twice a day for 10 days. Then put them in vinegar and water [about a quarter vinegar to water] for 24 hours. After that, rinse them. They can be frozen in bags at this stage if you have a lot of them. When you are ready, put the olives in jars and add the flavourings of your choice - people here like to use chopped carrots, red pepper and garlic - then cover with olive oil.

So now I feel truly Sicilian as I've got a bucket of olives in brine on the balcony! [Linda says watch out for the magpies, who adore them at the vinegar stage for some reason.]

Monday, November 06, 2006


Woof! Buona sera a tutti, this is Simi again! I just read that latest post and I would like to say that there is no way I am allowing my mummy to go back to Britain once a month! She can't afford it, anyway, and my monthly supply of dog treats might be in jeopardy! The Italian kennels were fine but once a year is quite enough for that caper, thank you!

She must have felt guilty about that conversation as she came back with this fashionable, new doggy shawl for me to snuggle up in. Now that's more like it!


Chatting to a friend this morning about my recent visit to Britain, I could scarcely conceal my amazement when he suggested, "Why don't you go back once a month to connect with your roots? That would be nice, wouldn't it?" Apart from the fact that I wouldn't dream of leaving Simi that often, I don't have that kind of money! And there'd hardly have been any point to the move! But this is a country in which young people not only go to the university nearest their home, but also come home every single weekend [a habit which never ceases to astonish me], where married people settle close to their parents and in-laws and where people are much more likely to say, "I'm from name of hometown" rather than "I'm from Sicily". I thought this was an interesting snippet of conversation as it reveals differing cultural perceptions about provenance.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Two people have asked me about Limoncello in the comments today, so here is the link to the recipe for it that I posted in September.


A lovely lunch with friends at Irma's today, consisting of:

Irma's pasta filled with ricotta and basil, with a pork sauce.
Fillets of beef with a cream sauce [very light, in case you're wondering].
Fruit - pomegranates freshly picked from Irma's garden [much bigger than the ones you get in Britain] .
Lemon cake from an excellent, nearby pasticceria .

I am replete.


I just had to show you this: a corner of a friend's lovely garden this morning. [Sometimes I miss having a garden but I don't miss the work involved!] Sitting on the terrace under such a clear, blue sky, it seemed quite incongruous to be telling the assembled company about Guy Fawkes' Night - which they had not heard of - in cold old Britain. They liked the idea of burning the guy!

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Not having lived in a country area, I had never seen quinces in Britain and used to substitute pears for them in recipes. I delight in finding them here, and, above all, in combining them with poultry or lamb. Mark has a good article on their use in sweet preserves and this is a photo of the quince paste which is made in Sicily.

In the photo here, I have used them with chicken breast pieces, plus some onion, garlic and tomatoes. In case you're wondering, the brown thing is a fat, Sicilian cinnamon stick! The herbs are basil and sage.


When I first saw olives this size, last year, I thought they were damsons! I am going to use Linda's method for curing and preserving them, so am playing "hunt the recipe" at the moment. When I find it, I'll let you all know!

Friday, November 03, 2006


It is still warm enough to go out without a jacket in the daytime, although we have reached the point where you do need long sleeves. The evenings, however, are getting cooler. Soon I will get the rugs out to make the place look more cosy. Italians, by the way, don't really understand the concept of "cosiness": when I first moved in and announced to the friend who was helping me that I wanted to put my armchair and settee close to the ornamental electric fire I had brought from Britain - I only ever have the decorative coal-effect on - she looked at me as if I was mad! "Why there? It will make the room look smaller!" I tried to explain that this is what we do - sit around a focal point fire in winter - but the winters are so short here that she couldn't see why that mattered to me.
The lady who lives upstairs came to see me today: she, like me, fears that the water in the cistern will run out by Sunday. This time, she will ring and ask for a fill-up. Watch this space!

Thursday, November 02, 2006


A friend of a friend has apparently said - not at all maliciously - that, to do what I have done [left everything to come and live here] I must be a person who had not put down roots in Britain. [For those of you who are new to this blog, I suppose the way I have done it is a bit unusual: I haven't moved into a colony of Brits, or even to a place where foreign settlers are common; I don't have a property or "safety net" in the UK and I couldn't go back even if I wanted to; it would just be impossible both financially and logistically.] The remark got me thinking as it seems to me to point to other differences between the two cultures.

Many Sicilians never leave the island and it occurs to me that I probably wouldn't, either, had I been born here. After all, they have at least six months of continuous sunshine every year and the winters are mild; they have clean beaches, lovely countryside, fabulous food and beautiful, historic towns. And so, to go on holiday, many of them simply decamp to their second or third houses in the countryside or at the sea. Why should they want to go anywhere else?

British people, even if they live a rich and comfortable life in Britain, do travel more and partly they do this for the sun. And, of course, many Britons move abroad or have a home abroad these days. Could it be that we are just more adventurous?

The other factor that ties Sicilians to their birthplace is the extended family that most of them have. I mentioned last week that young people in Italy as a whole live with their parents for much longer than they do in Britain. When they go to university, many but not all go to the one nearest their home town. And when they do leave home for good, many choose to live near their parents. All festivals are celebrated with large family gatherings. It is true that I don't have a family in Britain, but I don't think that would have stopped me as, had I been lucky enough to have my parents still living, they would have been glad to come with me and would probably have raced me to the plane! [This assumes that they would have been in good health, of course.]

But what exactly are "roots"? I've written before that my cultural assumptions and many of my automatic cultural reactions will always be British but you can learn and adopt the best ways of your new culture, too. That doesn't mean that you forget who and what you are. Moving here does not mean that I do not feel a love and gratitude towards my own country , or that I am not concerned about what happens to it. But I do think that you can develop a deep love for more than one place. My "roots" have given me my values and beliefs and these are things that you carry with you. Possibly they have also given me the ability to change cultures. Perhaps the Italian concept of "roots" is closer to the British and American one of "home". "Home is where the heart is" and my heart is here.

I'd be interested to know what readers think.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


There are lots of studs on boots and shoes and the toes are more rounded in shape. There is much bright red around, especially in accessories.


Halloween is not celebrated here in any big way, and I am rather glad as "trick or treat" is getting a bit out of hand in Britain. [I used to be one of the "grumps" who would batten down the hatches and pretend not to be in, I'm afraid.] However, people do know about it here and the primary schools mark the occasion. Some bars and shops have displayed carved pumpkins, I heard fireworks last night and this morning saw some evidence of flour having been thrown outside a nearby school. So maybe it is catching on. [It would be difficult to do "trick or treat" in an area where most people live in flats, though, and I don't think Italian parents would allow the wanton waste of food or approve of the threatening aspect to the vulnerable.]
Today, Tutti i Santi, is a national holiday but some shops and businesses have been open today and will close tomorrow for the Sicilians' favourite festival, I Morti [the Day of the Dead]. This is not at all a sad festival, as you might expect: people go to the cemetery and picnic among the graves and children receive gifts from their dead relatives. Supermarkets and ironmongers sell special red lights which are burned there and frutti di Martorana [marzipan fruits] and sugar statuettes form part of the gift packages. I think this festival is a good one, as it teaches children at an early age that death is part of this life and that the dead are not to be feared.


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