Saturday, May 31, 2008

Memorial day barbeque

ingredients for the Cherry crumble, one of the desserts
ingredients for Spaghetti alla norma, evokes memories of Sicily.

a salad of baby Arugula

a melange of crockery

Voila, the Cherry Crumble that just came out of the oven, hot and bubbly.

Spaghetti alla norma

I love this island, it doubles as a prepartion table and a buffet table. The food is prepared and once is cooked, the cooked food is arranged and the eating starts at the dinning table.

The black and yellow color is dated but I'm not going to spend any money updating this kitchen. I love the commercial stove, it's huge and hot, I can cook 2 turkeys side by side in the oven, it's that big.

Dinner time, quick, a picture before all the food is consumed. Bon Apetite!
It was very nice to have everyone gather together for a meal, our first since New Year, we couldn't do it over Easter because I was in Italy with my nieces. I was very happy to be cooking again and making food that reminds me of my trips abroad. I look forward to July 4th and am even now thinking about what to cook.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Breakfast of champions

That's right, the breakfast of this champion, leftover Cherry Crumble. The thing with cooking a lot, I cooked a lot for our Memorial day dinner, is so that I have a lot of leftovers. I have enough for the rest of the week. I can have leftovers for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. I had some leftover Cherry Crumble for breakfast with pouring cream. MMmmmmmm, it was so good, healthy? I don't know.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Panna Cotta

We ate Panna Cotta at a cafe in Piazza Navona, Rome, this costs us 8 euros, we split 2 among the 3 of us. It was so good, that was the first time I ate Panna Cotta (cooked cream), I've seen it done on cooking shows on TV, so this Memorial day I decided to make it. I found the recipe in an Italian Cook book that I had, it's so easy. Recipe follows, at the end of pictures.
I made the blackberry sauce earlier and froze it. I took it out of the freezer yesterday to defrost it. Here I'm cooking 1 cup cream with 1 cup sugar and it is now cooling on the kitchen counter.

Et voila or should I say something in Italian. This is the finished product. Panna Cotta, anyone?

Every one loved it, what's not to love, it's 2 cups of cream. It was delicious. You should try this at home. You'll be an instant hit as a cook. I don't even watch cooking shows.

Suffice it to say, we didn't have any leftover Panna Cotta. I shouldn't have left that carton of cream on the dinner table, as if we didn't have enough of the artery clogging stuff. It was left there for the other dessert, a cherry crumble which had a lot leftover. The bottle next to it is Grappa con Mertilli or Blueberries in Grappa, an exquisite drink. I brought it back from Rome. Here's the recipe for Panna Cotta,
2 envelops of Knox Powdered Gelatin (local supermarkets)
6 tablespoon water
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
7/8 cup sugar
In a small bowl sprinkle gelatin into the 6 tbs of water, set aside, do not stir. In pan, over low eat, warm half of cream with sugar till just about to boil. Do not boil, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Whip the rest of cream till stiff peaks, mix into the boiled cream (now at room temp). Pour into bowl and chill in fridge for at least 3 hours. Before serving loosen edges with knife and place bowl into hot water. Invert on serving plate and serve with favorite berry sauce.
The sauce I used is Blackberry sauce. Make a simple syrup by melting 1 cup of sugar in 1/2 cup water, cool. Take a bag of frozen Blackberries (1 lb), mix with simple syrup, pulse in mixer or food processor and there you have it, your Blackberry sauce. It can be done ahead and frozen.
Panna Cotta is sometimes served with caramel sauce like a flan in Italy. We tried both ways. I prefer the berry sauce. You can use any kind of berries. For the little effort, the taste is so huge. You'll be a success, everyone will want to come to your parties. My family loves to come over, I always come up with new things that I've tasted abroad. While we have our own standbys, I add new recipes each time.
Buon apetito!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ravenna 3

Ravenna, quiet and very laid back, a very livable city.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ravenna 2

a very decorative capital

San Vitale, Ravenna, the mother of all mosaics. I just realized that I didn't take too many pictures. After seeing the mosaics in Sicily, these pale in comparison but I also just realized that these predates those in Sicily by hundreds of years. Wow! These, in Ravenna were done in the 5th and 6th century, the ones in Sicily dates around the 12th century. These even predates those in the Haggai Sophia in Istanbul if San Vitale was the prototype for the Haggai Sophia. (are you still with me?) What makes San Vitale so significant is its association with the Roman Empire, the Barbarians and the Byzantium Empire, all having ruled Ravenna respectively. Today San Vitale is quiet and there are a few diehard American tourists like us roaming the place. Ravenna is not important on the tourist circuit. San Vitale is almost empty unlike the crowds in Sicily, all hungry to get a glimpse of the magnificent mosaics in places like Monreale, outside of Palermo (see my posting on Sicily, the first trip), the Palatine chapel in Palermo, La Matorana in Palermo and the duomo in Cefalu. (read my postings on my first trip to Sicily in this blog). The mosaics in Monreale is magnificent and almost cover the church from wall to wall to ceiling and they have undergone massive restoration. The Palatine chapel was undergoing restoration at the time of my visit in March 2007 but they did let us see part of it, those they were not working on. In fact a lot of monuments in Sicily is undergoing restoration, so when you visit, you might not see some of them. Sicily is well worth the trouble anytime.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ravenna 1

the covered market

inside the market

Olives and strawberries, ugh.. who eats that? Ashley, she eats olives with everything, 2 years ago, she ate olives with 1/2 a pound of freshly made nougat in Amsterdam.
The plan was to go to Verona but at the train station in Bologna, I decided on Ravenna because it was closer. Seeing Ravenna today, a nice sleepy town, lots of old people and young families, lots of bikes, it is hard to envision a place, in its heyday, was as important as Rome. When it was dangerous in Rome during the sacking of it by the Barbarians, the Roman emperors did move their administrations to Ravenna, in its heyday, an important part of the Byzantium Empire. It is just like being in Granada, Spain, which today is another pretty town in Spain, it was hard to imagine that that was the seat of the Moorish government and later Isabella and Ferdinand ruled from there. The Alhambra was where it all happened, just like San Vitale in Ravenna which we will visit in the next posting. That's the romance of Europe, one has to dig deeper when one visits, there are so many layers of history piled on top of each other. Will I ever get tired of visiting it? I don't think so.
On a different note, I visited a few blogs last week and found some gorgeous ones. I left a comment on one of them and they reciprocated.
On the way from the train station in Ravenna, we passed by this church. I went in to pray as I often do in churches in Europe. The girls wanted to know what I prayed about, I said, I always pray that I'll be able to continue to travel and see all these marvelous places, that I'll be able to share these experiences with them, take them with me and for loved ones at home who are worried about us. That's Europe, the age of faith has left us many churches, beautiful ones like San Vitale which we will visit in the next posting. For this I'm truly grateful.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Anna Sophia (my avatar)

I wake up, got out from under the linen duvet, into the chill of the house, brrrrrr... when is it going to warm up, I ask. I walk to the kitchen and made some coffee. I feel cold even in my flannel jammies. I run back to the bedroom to get a robe. Now, that feels much better, much warmer. The coffee is ready, I pour out some into a cafe au lait bowl, opened the frigo, found some cream, I think to myself, I need to walk to the fromagerie later to get some more and maybe get some more of those incredible and creamy yogurt (I only have a small pot left, I love the way the French package their yogurt, in little glass jars). I am consuming so much yogurt, it's keeping me very regular. Maybe, I'll get some more fromae blanc. Mmmmm... what a life, living in a country that produces some of my most favorite things. I look out of the kitchen window while clasping the warm coffee bowl with both hands. I looked at the still frozen winter landscape of the backyard. There's a certain beauty to it. I think to myself, I need to get dressed, go out with my camera, capture the beauty of the moment and write a posting in my blog. My blog? I'm still posting on it after 3 years, still faithful to that old and dear friend, except now I have joined the expatriate community. I've become a member of the 'expatblog'.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The virtual life

I was reading about the virtual life and a second life, of having an avatar who lives the life of your dreams in cyberspace, in the internet. Your avatar is whoever you want to be whether it be a celebrity where money is no object, she shops till she drops, or he/she fights crimes, etc, anyone you want to be. I don't know how it works, how to even start or how to even join in to play. Young people are making real money on things like this.
Here am I, sitting in my car, the front seat has turned into a sitting room like everybody else's cars these days. I have to leave the house very early to beat the traffic, I have a mini library/sitting room in the front seat of my car, I read, I pray, I dream and I write for at least 1 & 1/2 hours on the days that I work, in the front seat of my car, till it's time to start work at the pharmacy. I've been doing this for almost 10 years now. After all this time, some days are such a drag. Like all people, I plot and plan my escape from the 'tyranny of the clock'. Some one said, 'that's why it's called work'. Even so, it doesn't have to be such a mind numbing drudgery.
One morning, I was blessed with a brilliant idea, create my own avatar, my altered ego, my second life (except it's not virtual and no one else gets to come in). I am going to live my second life through 'Anna Sophia'. So over time, I'll make up stories about her life, so when 'Anna Sophia' does the postings, you'll have to remember, she's not real. We'll both post, so one is real life, the other is not, we might get both lives mixed up, so we might end up not knowing which is real life and which is not. Does it matter? No! This is going to be fun and exciting.
Why am I doing this? For my sanity or maybe for my insanity, which one? Who cares. I don't. I just need to remember which one is real and which one is not. What is I get mixed up..... let's find out.
Tomorrow will be Anna Sophia's first post. It's going to be fun. I love it already......

Friday, May 16, 2008

a peek into the 'cupboard' of my life

I'm trying to redecorate but I'm so lazy. This coffee table was some one's discarded craft project. I bought it, paid $69.....10 years ago, thinking I'll finish it, well, it almost became my discarded craft project, it almost became firewood. Finally after 10 years I'm working to finish it.
Some years ago, I bought a spray can of KILZ, a quick drying sealer base for wood. So I sprayed the table with it. It didn't quite cover it, I had to look for paint, maybe go to Home Depot to buy some. I hate leaving the house. There must be some old paint around the house. As with all the houses I've bought, there are always cans of paint left behind. I went to the section of the garage where paint cans go to die, found some stuff, it was some interior paint, for drywall, I think. Not for wood, I don't think but I used it anyway. It didn't really work. I searched again and found some wood paint. Et Voila! Here is it, the finished product, not bad, not that good. It'll do for now.
There's a story behind this couch, a $20 purchase at a garage sale. It had these hideous chartreuse covers on it and the foam had all but disintegrated. I bought it thinking I'll work on it and save some money. It sat that way for 4 years till I got fed up. I took it to an upholsterer, paid $340 to have the foam replaced and new covers made. So the $20 couch ended up costing me $360, maybe I should have bought a new couch.
Not that I can't afford anything new. I have so much cash in the bank earning no money, its criminal. I don't like to spend money. Now what am I going to do with the old TV. I have till 2/2009 to decide what to do........

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Addio Pizzo

Pizzo, not pizza. What is pizzo? It is the protection money extracted by the mafia or Cosa Nostra. The Cosa Nostra is alive and well in Italy and especially Sicily. While as tourists, we don't come in contact with the mafia, in Sicilian businesses, it is very much a part of the culture- still! These days, mothers and sisters of those affected and the young people have teamed up to form the association, Addio Pizzo ( to say no to the demands of Cosa Nostra. Among the prominent women in this fight are Letizia Battaglia and Rita Borsellino (I read she is a pharmacist), sister of the slain Magistrate, Paolo Borsellino.
Imagine the scenario, ' a group of young entrepreneurs getting together to open a club.... a very good idea, one of them say,''what about pizzo?" Yes, do we pay pizzo and be unmolested or do we not pay and risk the place going up in flames or even the simple annoyance of having glue squirted into the keyhole of your door!'
I remember reading last year about the farms and tractors confiscated from known Cosa Nostra members in Sicily and given to local farmers. They couldn't use the tractors because the Cosa Nostra made them unusable and they threw rocks into the farmlands to prevent them from being cultivated.
Our trip to Sicily last March (2007) placed us in touch with young Sicilians. On Friday, the train was packed with young Sicilians going back to help out in the family farms. On Monday, the reverse took place, the same people were headed for jobs in Palermo. Everywhere, fields were being plowed for agriculture, it was a heartwarming sight.
These young people wants to change the culture in Sicily by saying 'Addio Pizzo' (down with extortion). I hope they succeed.
The story is different in Southern Italy, the mafia of Reggio Calabria are the most ruthless. They control the drug trade, among other things, like the trash business. They have not allowed more dumps and incinerators to be built. So Naples reeks of trash most of the year. The EU is stepping in. The old part of Naples is quite impressive but everywhere there's all kinds of construction going on forever. There are some famous piazzas, when you visit expecting some great photo ops, but instead all you see is a dumpy place. I still like Naples. I like the Neapolitan spirit. My visit to Naples was totally pleasant. I'd visit again.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pretty Bologna

a pastry shop
all the fixin's for dinner

market street

one of the many beautiful arcades

view from our hotel room

All the buildings have covered arcades, painted with beautiful frescos or just beautifully vaulted. The old city centre is a wonderful place to wander around, peek into shops or have a drink at cafes with seats spilling into the arcades. It is Easter and the special cakes of Pasqua is found in every shop, reminds me of Panetone at Christmas. I went into a shop to get one, there was a long line to pay, you pay first, take your receipt to one of the shop girls who'll then hand you a cake. At 20 euros, it wasn't cheap but we enjoyed it and made a mess in the hotel room because the crumbs fell every where.
It is a long walk from the train station to our hotel. When we first arrived, we did take a taxi but once we were there, we quickly learnt the bus system and took the bus the rest of our stay.
We wandered around the markets of the old centre, it is really pretty. The beautiful produce looked like art, there are hams and sausages hanging from the rafters. We went in a store that sold home cooked food, we picked out dinner- a few veal cutlets, some salad and some vegetables, a few pieces of chicken and we ate in our hotel room, one of the nights we were there.
Another time we sat down for capuccino, I said, 'due capuccino, per favore'. The manager corrected me, he said, 'due capuccini'. So now I say to myself all the time, 'uno capuccino, due capuccini'. He brought us our coffee with a glass of water. You are supposed to chase your coffee with water, a very Arabic thing to do, after all the Arabs discovered coffee, they call it 'arabica'. I saw it done in Sicily but they never brought us water to chase our coffee. I guess you have to ask for it in Sicily.
All day at work, I was thinking, Europe is the only thing worth doing in this life, forget about beaches in Cancun or Hawaii, or the rainforests of South America.
When is my next trip?