Monday, July 25, 2016

My Favorite Part of My Visit to Sicily

My favorite event of my holiday in Sicily was a cooking class at a farm (Fattoria Mose')/B&B/cooking school in the Villaggio Mose' in Sicily.

Our tour group arrived about 5PM at the most charming sight. A working farm with chickens, a rooster, many cats, many dogs, many plants, olive trees, almond trees. verandas, long oil clothed tables for dining al fresco underneath shade trees on the veranda.

chickens in the garden

bougainvilla on the veranda

Inside the farmhouse, a "classroom" with long tables set out with dangerous looking knives for many budding gourmands. And a busy kitchen, of course.

We were tutored by the head chef and her advanced pupils. note: it looked, to me, like the pupils lived at the farm and the ones we met were quite advanced. They run  B&B on site as well, therefore, there is much opportunity for the pupils to have food prep experience. I later discovered that a stay at the  B&B costs $50 per night!!! That almost floored me. I would give a guess that a stay at a B&B of that caliber in the U.S. would be at least $100 per night.

When we arrived, the executive chef had already started chicken Marsala and was working on eggplant Parmigiana. On the kitchen counters, we saw a pile of ground almonds (produced on that farm) waiting for their next step in becoming truffles for dessert. On the same counter, we watched as the crust of a crostata de marmellata was created by a pupil of the school. She had previously preserved the marmellata (a mélange of several fruits).

In the kitchen - chicken Marsala on the stove - ground almonds - genesis of a crostata

Meanwhile, in the big room with the long tables, were the dangerous looking knives and wooden cutting boards, we played sous chef to the executive chef as we all prepared and put together a potato, artichoke, cheese (caciocavallo), onions, capers, and bread crumbs drizzled with extra virgin olive oil (produced right there) casserole bake.

the makings of the potato-artichoke bake

Next came those ground up almonds tossed into a pan with a simple syrup, then (when cooled a bit) kneaded together into a dough. Brought into the "classroom" for the sous chefs to roll into tiny balls, then rolling the tiny balls, some in cinnamon sugar and some in cocoa. That was part of our dessert (truffles).

pinch off a bit of dough-roll into a tiny ball-dust with cinnamon sugar or cocoa

Part II of dessert were orange roses (arancia de canella). We, the sous chefs, pared oranges, removing all the peel (down to the orange segments). Then the oranges were sliced in a spiral and wound into the form of a rose. These were arranged on a large plate, cinnamon sprinkled on them and a few mint leaves for garnish.

truffles and arancia roses with dusting of canella garnished with mint
the crostate de marmellata - lattice created by a tourista - hence the primitive lattice - still tastes good

finally - mangia - mangia
Surprisingly, there was much more to dinner than our neophyte sous chefs prepared. Our hostess had some food prepared off site and added to the glorious dinner that our little group helped to prepare. All in all, this experience was the star of the show.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sicily ~ Part IV ~ Churches

My visit to Sicily did not major on churches but more upon the history, archeology, conquerors, etc. of the island. However, the island is dotted with churches. Indeed, the wealthy landowners of old had chapels in their homes along with a resident priest and possibly a few nuns to do the praying for the family.

This tiny little chapel was right next door to the Hotel Centarium in Castellamare Del Golfo


                      Discovered this "Holy Family" sculpture in a little church in Erice


The 4 pictures above were taken in the Church of Saint Francis
(San Francisco)
This church is getting a "face lift"
Millions on uneven stone steps here. This church is in Palma de Montechiaro, includes the  Benedictine Monastery.
Worshippers lining up in front of this church in preparation for a procession
That was quite an interesting sight and one which one would only see in Italy. A religious procession in the center of Palermo.
The church buildings in Italy are awe inspiring because they are so ornate, full of amazing art treasures, many erected when building construction was in its infancy (no cranes, no electricity, no modern construction materials.) The care, talent,  expense, time and labor that it took must have been monumental. I feel so blessed to have been able to experience it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Sicily ~ Part III ~ Greek Temples

One of the highlights of my visit to Sicily was seeing so much history. The island of Sicily was first inhabited by the Greeks who wanted to make the island a Greek colony, thus gaining more land on which to farm to feed their burgeoning population. Sicily was thought of as the "Garden of Eden". The soil was so fertile, being made up of mostly volcanic ash. It was also situated favorably for sea trade with the surrounding nations.

However, Sicily has a thorny history of many nations all wanting to conquer whoever was the ruling party of the day. The Phoenicians, Carthagenians, Moors, Spaniards, the French, the Normans, the Tunisians.....................

My tour of western Sicily was led by the head of the Italian Department of a local college. She did her PhD dissertation on the life of Luigi Pirrandello, a native of Sicily, who was awarded the 1934 Nobel Prize for literature. It is my belief that she (the Professore) knows everything there is to know about Sicily (the history, the language, the geography, the religions, the weather patterns, the sea surrounding it, and then some. This set of circumstances led to a very history oriented tour. We did not just walk upon paved streets, and nice, even sidewalks, visiting churches and museums, eating at quaint bistros and sipping latte machiatos, although we did that as well. We also climbed mountains in 80 degree heat with sandals on! We scaled hills consisting of sand, rocks, pebbles, stones and tree roots.

Valle Dei Templi is where we're headed

Temples were erected on the highest spot of land available, in order to give proper honor to the deity plus a birds eye view of his/her loyal subjects all spread out at his/her overseeing/ruling feet.

The Greeks had many gods, and built many temples. Among those we visited were temples of Zeus, Hercules, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and the Acropolis.

One thing about temples is: they all look the same. It seems there's a prescribed architectural plan. The temples the Greeks built in Sicily were built from 800 to 500 years before Christ. Many of  them are showing signs of age but not all. I understand that it took approximately 20 years to build a temple at a time when the life expectancy was 40 years!

You can see the steps down from the temple. On the lower level was the altar.

I was amazed at the design of the temples. They had an inner room, completely dark, in which the god dwelt plus much treasure. Around this inner room, there were open and sunlit corridors, with pillars surrounding on the outer walls. Then steps down to the lower level where the ordinary people gathered to make sacrifices to the god. Our guide described this as a "Barbeque" because, usually, an animal was sacrificed on the altar which was situated outside of the temple, on the ground level. Some of this sacrifice was offered to the god. Then the worshippers enjoyed the barbeque.

This all sounded familiar to me because of what I read in my Bible of the directions that Jehovah God gave to Moses regarding how to build a residence for Him. He gave specific instructions about every detail. I find it amazing that His specifications for worship were followed by later generations. He was the originator of the temple building architectural plans.

It is my understanding that the Hebrew nation is now living in the year 5776. If the Greeks built the Sicilian temples 800-500 years before Christ, they were built approximately 2800 years ago, (3000 years ago, give or take).  That means about 2700 years before the Greeks built the Sicilian temples, the children of Israel built a temple to their one and only God, Yaweh, erecting it according to the precise specifications that the Lord gave to Moses.

I am amazed by this..........


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Visit to Sicily ~ Part II ~ Sweets

Ever since I returned from my visit to Sicily, I have been online looking for recipes for all the wonderfully delicious sweets I had while there. There were familiar desserts, like the cannoli. But even the ones I'd heard of were deliciously different in Sicily. One of those is the cassata. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of a cassata even though it was on the breakfast buffet every morning. Yes, the Sicilians have sweets for breakfast. That fact makes me feel a lot less guilty for having a couple homemade biscotti with my morning coffee.

Breakfast array - including cannoli, cookies, filled croissants

The cookies were works of art. Do these people stay up nights trying to imagine more and more decadent desserts. And the coffee they wash them down with almost defies description. Even a latte macchiato, in the home of it's origin, is delectable. And...........I found a new one. It's called a "crema d caffe". It's cold, served in a small glass and kind of like "heaven on earth". I saw instructions online how to make it. I tried one. Dismal failure #1. I am going to keep on trying, though.

pistachio gelato and a latte

I have already attempted to make cassatelli. It looks deceptively like a ravioli. It is fried dough, filled with a sweet ricotta and dusted with powdered sugar. It was served to me on a plate, sitting atop a squiggle of chocolate syrup. My attempt to make these was dismal failure #2. I threw the whole batch in the trash can. However I will give it another try. I am not giving up.   
there she is: Miss Casatelli

Here's a few more examples of the Sicilian art of Patisserie

saw lots of these small cones filled with various sweet concoctions

Pistachio Pie - How do they do that?


Marzipan is ground almonds plus simple syrup. Almonds trees are plentiful. In a cooking class we took while there, we took small portions of freshly made marzipan and rolled it into tiny "polpetti", which were then rolled in cocoa and some into a sugar/cinnamon. Voila! truffles

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trip to Sicily - Part 1

Wow, I haven't blogged in over a month. I've been BUSY. I've been planning a trip to Sicily which is history now but I am going to tell you all about it. Almost as soon as I returned back home, I've had houseguests. But, I'm about back to "normal" now and able to resume my normal habits.

I live in the northeast where Summers (June, July, August and 2 weeks of September) are hot and furious and as quick as you blink your eye. So all Summer activities (weddings, Summer vacations, garden tours, farmers markets, beaches, food truck rodeos, Jazz Festivals, Fairport Canal Days, Cottages, Abbotts ice cream, etc.) have to get crowded into 15 weekends (out of 52 - not a lot - about 29% of the year). Hence, when I returned from overseas, Summer already made her annual appearance and the normal, regular Summertime activities had begun, even though I wasn't quite ready for that to happen.

For me, this trip to Sicily was the trip of a life time, something I've always wanted to do. I did travel to Italy one other time. That was a visit to mainland Italy. This recent trip was to the island of Sicily, the place my grandparents emigrated from in 1894. I was hoping to discover some remnant of their life there. I'll tell you about that in another post.

For right now, I'll tell you what I was so entranced by. The way Italians hang their laundry in the hot Sicilian sun was totally enchanting to me. I still do that, in as much Summer sunshine as we get here on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Enjoy these photos of Laundry Day in Sicily:

I am assuming that inside the apartments, there is a washing machine but not a dryer. But who needs one? Sicilian weather is spectacular. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nitrate Film Festival and Dinner

Last weekend, the George Eastman Museum presented the  nitrate-picture-show, a festival of Film Conservation. The movies were presented in the Dryden Theater at the Museum. I don't have the figures for this year but last year people from 16 countries around the world gathered in Rochester, NY for the event.

If you're interested, this link will take you to an explanation of why nitrate film is so volatile yet so valuable a piece of the history of film.  Nitrate film

I wish I could've seen more of the festival's offerings. I did see "The Bicycle Thief" (Ladri Di Biciclette", a 1948 Italian film directed by Vittorio De Sica and "The Roadhouse", an American movie, also filmed in 1948. Starring Ida Lupino, Celeste Holm, Cornell Wilde and Richard Widmark.  This film is stored at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Following such an delightful experience, it was fitting that we dine at a totally awesome place. We had dinner at the The Cheesecake Factory. We went in there with a plan: eat light so you'll have room for dessert. This plan was developed after eating there several times and never able to fit in a piece of their famous cheesecake. We both had a lovely salad so we could manage to also have dessert. We made a valiant effort. We both still had to take home a "doggie bag" of leftover cheesecake. I had no trouble eating it the next day.

I do think this has to be my favorite one. I had the S'mores cheesecake. My friend had the carrot cake. The S'mores cake came with dripping down the sides melted marshmallow, a half a graham cracker perched on top and lots of whipped cream (which I removed).


Monday, April 25, 2016

Mortadella Panini

I had the mortadella Panini for lunch today. I think this may be my favorite sandwich. It comes to us via  Jeff Mauro - sandwich king on the food network.

I happened to be in an Italian grocery today and while there for another reason entirely, purchased the mortadella for my sandwich, as well. Mortadella is sort of an Italian bologna with big chunks of tasty pork fat and pretty green pistachios in it. They slice is very thin.

How to: If you have a Panini maker grill, lucky you. I don't,  so here's my "panini maker". It's a regular non-stick skillet plus a small cake plate plus a very heavy stone bunny. All piled on top of each other. The bunny acts as the "press", smashing the sandwich together just like it was a $100.00 Panini press.

As you put together your sandwich, set your skillet on a medium low burner to warm up for its job of creating your Panini.

For the sandwich: two slices of Italian bread, spread with fig jam, thin slices of a mild Italian cheese like Asiago or Fontinella on each slice of bread. Then two slices of mortadella (the mortadella is big so two slices is plenty because you'll fold it so it fits on the bread). Close up your sandwich and smear both outside surfaces with olive oil and lay carefully in the skillet. Place the small cake plate on top of the sandwich, then put the bunny on top of the plate to weigh it down to "panini" it.

After maybe 5-6 minutes, have a peek to see if the bottom slice is golden. If so, flip it so the other side can get golden as well. Pile up the plate and bunny again on top of the sandwich.

                               When both sides are golden, put it on a pretty plate and mangia.

                                                  You'll want another, I'm sure.