Monday, December 31, 2012


At this time of year, I've decided, it should not be only HM The Queen who hands out the honours, so here are mine:

1.  Let's start with my "ingredient of the year", which has to be the noble pomegranate.  My recipe of the year is this one.

2.  Still in the kitchen, let's move on to my "gadget of the year".  I have arthritis in my hands and, whilst there is my trusty processor for chopping, peeling had become difficult.  Then one day, in Catania, I found this American palm-held peeler. I cannot thank the makers, Chef'n, enough!

3.  My book of the year is kitchen-realated, too.  In the centenary year of the subject's birth, it is Dearie - The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz.  I'm intrigued by the relationship between Julia and her husband and the meticulous way in which this lady researched her recipes is a lesson for all cooks and aspiring cookery writers.  The book also offers a fascinating insight into American culinary mores of the time and the birth of the chef superstar.

4.  From the kitchen to the bathroom, for I've already awarded my "Italian logic prize 2012" here.  If I hadn't, the organisers of the following fiasco would provide stiff competition:  in Italy, most successful job candidates are selected by complicated competitions on a "points" system rather than by pre-selection by CV and then an interview.  Recently I heard of a situation where two candidates had equal points but one was wanted by the company more than the other. At this point it was decided to exclude both these candidates, on the grounds that they had more experience than the others, to "make it fair".  This again proves my point that Italy is a democracy that is a long way from being a meritocracy and therein lie many of its troubles.

5.  The "non-feminist of the year" award goes to the former Mrs Berlusconi, Veronica Lario. Her ex may well have deserved being taken to the cleaner's but let's stop hailing the lady as a feminist heroine, shall we? There is no doubt that Miss Lario is beautiful and I'm sure she is very talented.  However, independent women, by definition, do not live off men!

6.  Now the shits:  I've had many bad days in my life but the worst two were those on which my parents died, twenty and forty years ago respectively in 2013. Time helps you accept these things, as you must in order to go on living, but the pain never really goes away.  In 2012, someone I'd trusted chose the eve of the anniversary of one those days to do something spiteful, premeditated and awful to me. After I'd cried a bit, though, I was able to say, "I've known a worse day than this" and pull myself together. Therefore, in retrospect I would like to thank the person for the timing; it helped me to establish what's important and what isn't.

7.  The angels are the friends who listened, lent their shoulders, fed me comforting soup and enabled me to start again. I include my precious dog Simi among them, for although she has difficulty preparing the soup, she continues to give me all the love in the world, every day.

8.  My "shit number two" [so to speak] award goes to all who profit from the misery of others and especially the ratings agencies that do so much to cause it.

9.  Finally, my "Carry On Up the Tiber" award goes to Italian politicians, who cannot even give the bickering a rest over Christmas.  Ever heard of "peace and goodwill", guys?

Image:  Wikipedia


Frank Sinatra - Pick Yourself Up

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Today saw the passing of a very great Italian lady and heroine of mine: Rita Levi-Montalcini, Italy's "first lady of science", Nobel laureate, Senator for Life and Cavaliere di Gran Croce [Knight Grand Cross, the highest honour of the Italian Republic] passed away peacefully, at the age of 103, at her home in Rome.  I've written about her several times on this blog, including in this review of one of the most informative books I've read about her. What follows is an edited version of that post:

Born in Turin to a Sephardic Jewish family, Rita Levi-Montalcini decided early on that she wanted to go to medical school. She overcame her father's opposition, which was based on a traditional view of a woman's role, and graduated from the Turin Medical School in 1936 - just in time to be barred from her professional work by the Mussolini government.

Undaunted, she set up a laboratory in her home and in 1943 she fled, with her family, to Florence, where she set up a second laboratory. She returned to Turin in 1945 and was invited to work at the Washington University in St Louis, where she was made a full Professor in 1958. She returned to work in Rome in 1961. In 1986 she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work with Stanley Cohen on nerve growth factor.

In 2009 she told a Times interviewer that she had never married because she had not wanted to be "dominated" in the way that her mother was and that she puts her longevity down to getting up at 5 am, working hard to keep her brain active and eating only one meal a day, at lunchtime.

In La clessidra della vita di Rita Levi-Montalcini by Giuseppina Tripodi with Rita Levi-Montalcini we learn that this modest lady attributes her success in scientific research to trusting her intuition and knowing her limits. Never afraid to speak her mind or to change it, in 1998 Rita Levi-Montalcini called upon the UN to liberalise drug use in order to free young people from what she calls the "drug war" . She now believes, though, that the use of soft drugs can lead to dependence on hard ones and has thus modified her view. She remains interested and concerned about the problems of the young, believing that much unhappiness arises from wrong choices made during adolescence.

She also writes that genocide, violence and war are not the result of man's natural aggression but of our blind obedience to those in power. She champions a new Charter of Human Rights for all states and in this the banning of the atomic bomb and further weapons of destruction of any kind, plus a commitment to improving the quality of life everywhere, rather than only in certain areas, would be fundamental.

Rita Levi-Montalcini enjoyed a special bond with young people and had revolutionary views on education which any incoming Minister of Education in Italy would do well to read. She was living proof of her own assertions that in old age the brain, in contrast to the muscles, heart, lungs and limbs, can continue to function well and that life should be faced with humility and courage.  She believed that,

"The most refined and extraordinary instrument we have at our disposal is the mind."

Thank you, Rita, for inspiring so many Italians and others around the world, including at least one Welshwoman.

Rita Levi-Montalcini depicted in flowers at the Noto Infiorata, 2011

Saturday, December 29, 2012


The splendid Zucchero is having a hit with this and I dance and sing along every time I hear it. The singer's album La Sesión Cubana is at number one in the Italian charts.

Zucchero - Guantanamera

As a teenager, I loved this version:
The Sandpipers - Guantanamera

Friday, December 28, 2012


Christmas really began for me on the evening of the 21st, when the Modican "foreign legion" held their annual multilingual carol service.  We were a little quieter than usual, having lost a dear member, but we did our best to sing out for her.

Chiara had decided that it was more important than ever to spend pleasant times together, so another gathering took place at her house on Saturday morning.  This is where the serious eating began!  Christmas just isn't Christmas without hot mince pies, and there were plenty of those:

I had made a batch of Welshcakes with cranberries:

Chiara had made a lovely Christmas cake

and Roberta had made these yummy, nut-flavoured "thins":

 There was homemade shortbread, too

and it wouldn't have been a Sicilian "tea" if someone hadn't brought along some ice cream!

Later on Saturday, we held a little Christmas party for students over at English Matters.  Our clever secretary, Martina, made these exquisite chocolates

and this was my go at making Nigella's chocolate Christmas cake:

 These delightful creations came from a Modican pasticceria:

Then suddenly it was Christmas Eve, which I again spent with Linda, Chiara and  family.

As I don't eat fish, I had to pass on these salmon appetisers but I'm sure they were delicious:

Don't you love the way these little appetisers are cut?

There was calabrese salad

 and it is traditional to serve several kinds of focaccia:

I hadn't made pumpkin bread for a while, so prepared some of that to take along:

I had to pass on the salmon with beignets too, but I loved the presentation:

Then there was one of my favourite Christmas Eve dishes, roasted artichokes:

Chiara had made another Christmas cake and it was scrumptious:

And finally, there was warm panettone:

"See you later this morning", we called as we parted and within a few hours we all met at Grazia's for Christmas lunch.

There was pasta, of course:

Linda provided the British elements and very good they were:

I had to pass again on these:

Here comes Grazia's pollo ripieno, with a garnish to gladden this blogger's heart:

And where there is Grazia, there will be excellent homemade pane condito:

I had made my standby semifreddo di marrons glacés. This time I added a little more cocoa powder for the colour and a few drops of cinnamon liqueur.  [The recipe for this is in Il Cucchiaio d'Argento.]

One of my young friends had made this pretty lemon cake and served it with justifiable pride:

The parents of Grazia's youngest guests had hoped that this chocolate crib, made and sold by a charitable organisation, would be opened and consumed on New Year's Eve.  Needless to say, it wasn't to be:

Then there was more warm panettone:

We all felt very lucky to have been able to celebrate Christmas together this year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I am ashamed to tell you that on the morning of Christmas Eve my gloomy mood would have made Ebenezer Scrooge seem like Santa and it was all the fault of - can you guess it? - the post office. I'd cheerfully walked down to the ritiro office, having been advised that a parcel was waiting for me, only to be told curtly that they were closed - at 11.30 am on Christmas Eve! I huffed and I puffed but didn't have the energy to blow the premises down so contented myself with grumbling all the way back.

Then I picked up the newspaper and read a love story for our times:  Monday's print edition of La Sicilia reported that two migrants, Massouda from Tunisia and Mohamed from Libya, had arrived on Lampedusa - so often the backdrop to tales of deep sorrow - on separate migrant boats in April 2011. Both had suffered loss and tragedy in their respective countries and were fleeing from horrific events. They met only briefly, as they disembarked, but it was love at first sight. Massouda was almost immediately transferred to the centre for asylum seekers at Mineo and eventually obtained refugee status. This meant that she had the legal right to leave the centre but something held her back. Then one day, Mohamed arrived there too. Their love blossomed and a baby - to be named Yassine -  is expected any day now.

Massouda and Mohamed say that they have been welcomed kindly in Sicily and regard the centre staff at Mineo as friends. They would like to stay here but accept that it is going to be difficult to find work. Even so, I found their story uplifting and indicative of the real message of Christmas. It is also a reminder of Sicily's cosmopolitan past.

By the time I got to the hairdresser's and was fed homemade impannatighi I felt positively chirpy:

Later, in an afternoon temperature of 20 C., I looked out at a perfect blue sky and asked myself if I really wanted to be in a country where people were so stressed about Christmas that some stores had decided to open at midnight and where shoppers were probably jostling each other and fighting over the last turkey at that very moment. I decided I did not so there is nothing for it but pazienza.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012


The fabulous Mr Bublé appears here again by virtue of being Italian-Canadian and sorry, Bing, but I think this is the best version ever!

Michael Bublé - White Christmas

Friday, December 21, 2012


Football's - and my - favourite Sicilian naughty boy, Mario Balotelli, has some difficulty when it comes to gift-wrapping and blames being left-handed:

But give the guy a break - he's probably never had to do it! In Italy you hardly ever have to gift-wrap as almost all shops will do it for you, at no extra charge, all year round.  I brought this roll of festive wrap with me from Britain seven years ago [having been at that "might as well throw it in" point with the move] and I think it's going to last a few more Christmases yet:

If that team manager of yours  [you can tell he's Italian too by the elegant way he ties his scarves] would like to gift-wrap you, Mario, I'll be very happy to unwrap you on Christmas morning.  Sigh....

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Hi, folks.  Simi here!

I bet you've been wondering where I was. Well, I've been keeping my mummy in order and last night I helped her cook our Christmas cake.

I thought I'd take over the blog tonight because it's my birthdoggieday and I'm fourteen!  My mummy says she was very awkward when she was my age but I'm going to set a better example.

Look at this pretty card I got from mummy:

And my birthdoggieday and Christmas presie combined - well, she says they're combined but I'm sure I'll get some more doggie treats - is this lovely, warm raincoat with a hood. Isn't it the Pekingese knees? 

This is my "strut the dogwalk" pose

and you have to admire the back view, fans!

As usual, that ole black poodle down the road is a-whining and a-pining for me, hee-hee!

Hope you're all being good so that Santa Paws will bring you lots of chewies!

See you soon.


Simi xxxx woof!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I'm rather fussy when it comes to diaries.  I know you young folk use your cellphones to schedule your lives but I still like to use pen and paper for this purpose. [I hope we're not quite at the point where someone will ask, "What's pen and paper?"]

Anyway, I usually end up with several diaries, as I can never find one which suits all my purposes. I have an academic year diary for work purposes but find I need a calendar year one as well.  I favour a double-page week-to-view format with spaces big enough to write in several reminders for each day but for some reason this type of diary is difficult to find in Italy.  Last year my bank gave me one and I nearly fell over right there at the desk because the shock of a bank employee handing me something that was not unpleasant was too much for me.

I also acquired this one, coutesy of the Mondadori bookshop and I like it because it has literary details:

This one is rather complicated, what with tear-off bits that seem to be inserted at random and no clear format

so in June I stopped tearing my hair out in frustration and contented myself with prettying up the cover for the Jubilee:

It seems a bit early to be thinking of next year's diary, though in reality it's not and I was pleased yesterday when the cashier at the Conad supermarket gave me this one.  It has two days to a double page, you can tear them off to make a shopping list and there are tips and recipes as well.  I like the bright cover, too.

Let's hear it for the Conad!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Some of you may remember the bresaola roll-ups I made in June. Well, the other day, for the first time, I saw turkey bresaola slices in the supermarket and I decided to see if I could make a festive appetiser with them, using my "ingredient of the year", pomegranate seeds. 

This time I got some Robiola but you could use Certosa or even Philadelphia cheese.  I used 150 gr Robiola to fill 100 gr of turkey bresaola slices.  I added some pomegranate seeds and the juice of two mandarins to the cheese and mixed it well, seasoning it with a twist of mixed peppercorns. Then all you have to do is roll the slices up and sprinkle some more pomegranate seeds over the top!

Saturday, December 15, 2012


The winner of Italy's X Factor 2012 sings the current number one:

Chiara - Due Respiri

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Tonight the new series of Masterchef Italia begins and it's as much fun watching the judges - kindly but honest Bruno Barbieri, the elegant, "cool" Joe Bastianich and "occhi di ghiaccio" [ice-eyes] Carlo Cracco - as the various dishes.

After a long and tiring day, I can't miss a moment of the gorgeous Carlo so I've got a pizza "for one" [by Sicilian standards] again.  This time it's called a Giuliana, containing four of my favourite things:  potatoes, sublimely spicy sausage, rosemary and grana cheese.

And now it's back to Carlo for me so see you all tomorrow night!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I have a lasting affection for Modica's Bar Fucsia [pronounced "fook-see-ah"] as it is the place where Simi the dog and I arrived to be met by friends when we moved to the city all those years ago. I can never pass the bar without thinking of that evening. They also make extremely good ice cream.

The colour fuchsia, too, is one of my favourites but when it comes to lipstick I cannot find a true fuchsia shade that looks "fucsia fucsia" ["really fuchsia"] on my lips, though it may seem so when dabbed on my hand from the tester. I should add that there are some makes I just cannot use because of allergies and the brands of make-up available here in Sicily are broadly the same as those to be found in perfumeries all over the world.  

The nearest I have got to a true fuchsia shade that doesn't look as pale as death once on my lips is the YSL lippie at the front on the right but they don't make it any more. [Isn't it annoying when cosmetic companies withdraw our favourite shades, ladies?]  The Italian brand Karaja lippie at front left is not too bad on me but it doesn't come out a deep fuchsia colour as it does on Italian lips. So are you listening, cosmetic houses? I want a "fucsia fucsia" lippie the colour of that car on Bar Fucsia's roof and I want it to stay that colour!

When it comes to clothes, the most difficult colour to obtain here is emerald green and I've become convinced that this must be because for some reason it does not suit Italian skins.  Come on, all you designers up in Milan - get some emerald clothes out there for Christmas!

OK, that's my rant done and if you're wondering why it matters, gentlemen, here's the reason:

Peggy Lee - I Enjoy Being a Girl

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I've never been to Sardinia but would like to and the other day I thought I'd take an imaginary journey there by trying one of its famous dishes.  Cutturiddi is a lamb stew which is also made, with slight variations,  in Puglia and Basilicata.  The lamb is cooked slowly in oil with fresh red chilli pepper, onion [I used a red one], celery and fresh tomatoes. I didn't peel the tomatoes but probably would have if I had been cooking for guests. The vegetables provide plenty of liquid and no extra is added apart from a ladeful of water. 

Now I have to make a confession so if any Sardinians are reading, look away now!  It is that I am still British enough to have an obsession with the "marriage" of lamb and mint and, as I had some, I added a few fresh mint leaves. I think it worked!

For those of you in Italy, I found the recipe in the Bolliti, Brasati e Spezzatini volume of the La Cucina Italiana series that comes with La Gazzetta dello Sport [which I don't read.] As I'm sure the result would be just as delicious without the mint I want to go to Sardinia more than ever now!


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