Pomegranate Season

I know it’s autumn when Signor Lu’s uncle arrives at our house with a crate of pomegranates from his brother’s tree.

This year he arrived with a particularly abundant offering.

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pomegranate-bowl0179For the past week we have been eating one or two of these delicious fruits a day…and it looks like we’ll be continuing with our pomegranate diet until the end of the month.

There are many ways to prepare the pomegranate to eat. With its hard, thick skin, it’s not the easiest of fruits to hack into. Naturally there are several YouTube videos that explain how best to get at the delicious pomegranate seeds.

My favourite method is to get Signor Lu to do all the work. He’s becoming very proficient at it thanks to all the practice ūüôā

pomegranate-seeds0180Now we have our own pomegranate tree, in our very own garden.

Sooner or later we will pick the fruit and compare it with Signor Lu’s uncle’s brother’s fruit.

But what will we do next year if our tree yields a bumper crop and uncle arrives with another box from his brother’s tree?

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Garden

In the dog days of summer, a nice gardener came round and sprayed the weeds in our “garden”.

For a few weeks, our front yard looked like this:

garden-before0157The above was a vast improvement on the jungle of weeds that had preceded it.

And then the friendly gardener came round again. With help from his labourers (a younger man and an elderly gent), he worked away and established a little garden for us.

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View from the front porch.

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View from the front gate.

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He installed an arch over the front gate and planted some climbing roses at its base. Come next spring, the roses will run rampant all over the arch –¬† so we hope.

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 He also planted a pomegranate tree, which is already bearing fruit.

The pleasant gardener then scattered some lawn seed, gave us some gardening tips, and left.

The sun shone and we watered our garden as instructed.

Neighbours passed by and complimented us on the transformation of our jungle. (Admittedly, we  had  been dragging the whole neighbourhood down.)

Within 10 days the grass began to grow.

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And that, dear reader, was how our garden was born.

We are delighted with it!

Before the garden was planted, an assortment of potted plants kept us company over the long, hot summer.  They, too, are rather happy with their new surroundings.

My faithful basil which has enhanced many a meal at casa nostra.

My faithful basil which has enhanced many a meal at casa nostra.

My scene-stealing surfinia.

My scene-stealing surfinia (aka petunia).

Stay tuned for details of the rear garden.

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Memorable Meals in the Med

One of the many delights of the Med, Sicily in this particular case, is the unpretentious yet delicious meals they serve.

The food is¬†local, by which I mean¬†the menu is shaped by geography, tradition and Sicily’s agriculture.

It’s highly familiar: Mediterranean/Italian/Sicilian dishes are known and copied far and wide.

Most of all, though, with plenty of fish and vegetables on the menus of the province of Trapani, my peculiar tastes are widely catered for.

So what exactly did we eat during our stay on the Med’s largest island?

The highlights were as follows:

La Casa del Cous Cous, San Vito lo Capo

A Sicilian friend recommended this restaurant.

She knew what she was talking about.

My seafood cous cous arrived on very pretty plates and was accompanied by a bevy of sauces, none of which was strictly necessary. ¬†Olive oil had been rubbed into the cous cous by hand, and the grains had been cooked to textural perfection. (When I prepare cous cous it tends towards mushiness, but I’m learning the error of my ways.)

The seafood, which included generous chunks of fish, formed a perfect marriage with the tasty cous cous.

A dish most definitely not to be missed.

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La Cambusa, Castellammare del Golfo

Another great recommendation from our Sicilian friend.

We had a gloriously fresh octopus salad followed by the best seafood risotto I have ever eaten. The quality of the seafood made the dish, along with the flawless execution of the risotto. (Technically, risotto is a Northern Italian dish, which somewhat goes against the grain (pun fully intended) of what I said beforehand about the joys of local food).

Moving on: after the risotto we had a scrumptious plate of mussels.

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Sottovento, Scopello

This place was a TripAdvisor find.

Again, we feasted on a stunning array of seafood dishes.

gettingfedinthemed 002To begin with, there was a tortino di alici, a small pie which had been skilfully constructed out of fillets of hairless anchovies (these formed the “crust”). The filling was a generous portion of creamy, delicately flavoured eggplant. I loved this fishy twist on the humble pie.

We also sampled the octopus salad which contained thin white strips of meat. We sampled, too, a fillet of tuna which had been cooked to perfection: coated in sesame seeds and seared on the outside while decadently sashimi-like on the inside.

Our vegetables were a caponata (bottom right in my photos above) a Sicilian specialty made with eggplant, celery, tomatoes, onions, olives and capers in a sweet and sour sauce. Another simple and successful dish.

But wait there’s more!

There were numerous sweet treats available too, but since I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, Sicilian cakes and desserts tended to fall under my personal food radar.

And don’t go thinking that Sicilian cuisine is only about fish and vegetables (and the above hinted at desserts). Meat, pasta, pizza, bread, etc. are more than commonplace. In fact, I suspect there is something to suit most palates on the magical and enchanting island of Sicily.

Buon appetito!

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A Mediterranean Journey

Close your eyes. I’m taking you on a journey.

Oh wait! This is a blog, a visual medium. Better keep your eyes open.

Destination? A Mediterranean island.

Forget the indignities of low-cost airlines: we’re there already! This is Trapani in Sicily.

We pick up our rental car at the airport, a Fiat 500, a fine example of Italian engineering. (Cough, cough – that’s enough sarcasm for the day.)

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The roads are not so bad, are they? Not in the same league as Germany’s, but they’ll do.

And here we are! In the pretty seaside village of Scopello. Let’s visit some picturesque beaches with crystal, clear waters. Let’s swim with the fishes.

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Hope you’ve packed your beach shoes because there’s no sand here (or shells – which is odd). The seashore is all pebbles.

I don’t know about you, but I can live with the pebbles when I’m surrounded by lusciously scented Mediterranean vegetation. Inhale deeply. Are your olfactory senses not swooning? Mine most certainly are.

OK, now it’s time to get into the Fiat 500 and visit some nearby towns: Golfo di Castellammare, San Vito lo Capo and Trapani itself.

We are definitely not in Kansas anymore (or Northern Italy, either). There’s a mix of decay, ruin and antiquity, but there are smartened up bits, too, where tourists may be prised of their euros.

My question is this: do people really live in these places? And if so, how?

Now it’s time to pop over to the island of Favignana where we rent a bicycle for the day. Map in hand, we cycle round to various beaches.

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At every stop the water is an alluring colour. It’s fresh and invigorating, too. (Don’t worry, I am slathered in 50+ suncream and I re-apply at regular intervals. I refuse to let myself get sunburnt.)

Before leaving the island, let’s stop at an outdoor caf√® for a coffee-flavoured ice-cream. Mmm – that really hit the spot.

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I haven’t mentioned the other gastronomic delights of this pocket of Sicily yet. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed, but that will have to wait until another day!

You are free now to drift back to wherever it was you came from. Me? I’m not quite ready to go back, yet.

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My Summer Started in Sicily

Just back from a 5-day holiday in Sicily. (Scopello to be precise, in the province of Trapani.)

Did I have a good time?

Mmm…let me see…where’s my checklist? Oh, here it is:

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All right. Yes, I think it’s fair to say I had an excellent holiday.

Some photos:

Hand stand in hotel swimming pool.

Hand stand in hotel pool.

Photos of my feet

Holiday snaps of my feet.

Breakfast outside. I'm already missing Sicilian tomatoes.

Breakfast outside. I’m already missing Sicilian tomatoes.

Mediterranean garden beds.

Mediterranean garden beds.

Azzure blue waters of the Med.

A glimpse of the azzure blue waters of the Med offset by the heady aromas of Mediterranean flora.

To be continued!

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The Great Gatsby

In my final year of secondary school, The Great Gatsby was on the required reading list for English. I eagerly lapped it up. It seemed to conform to the type of fiction I felt I ought to be reading.

Immature and inexperienced – although I read prolifically – I didn’t really understand it; not the characters, not the relationships between them and not the context. The Jazz Age, the American Dream, bootleggers – I had little idea what these things meant or represented. (My version of bootlegging was to record my favourite music onto blank cassettes.)

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I gladly laboured over my essays on The Great Gatsby. None of them has survived. Undoubtedly they were bursting with earnestness and bristling with prime quotations (I loved quoting text back then) to passionately prove my arguments.

I’ve also lost my original copy of the book with its heavily annotated margins; something to cringe at, at every turn of the page. Still, I enjoyed the process, finding evidence for everything and gaining insight into the characters in spite of my limited life experience.

As with many others who have read The Great Gatsby, it’s a book that has stayed with me. References to it crop up everywhere – perhaps never more so than lately with the release of the film in Europe. But even without the Luhrmann production, it’s one of those novels that occupies a place in the collective consciousness of readers and anyone who has read it will have a view on it. This week I really enjoyed listening to a BBC World Book Club podcast about it. (I always enjoy their podcasts.)

I haven’t re-read The Great Gatsby¬†in over a decade yet my understanding of it has ripened (or so I like to think). I’ve met people like Nick Carraway who claim they don’t judge others, but do! And people like Daisy Buchanan, whose voices might not exactly sound like money, but who exude their wealthy backgrounds in other ways. Then there are life’s Jay Gatsbys (relatively abundant in Italy though somewhat on the downlow in this never-ending economic crisis); throwing lavish parties at their private villas, splashing out on luxury cars, owning staggeringly expensive clothing – all paid for through ill-gotten gains.

The characters are certainly memorable and yet the novel provides only light sketches of them. And though excess is described, it is done so economically. Fitzgerald creates his microcosim with great brevity, but at the same time, he does not skimp on language. The book is slight, but paradoxically, not slight at all.

I haven’t yet been to see the latest film. At school we saw the Mia Farrow /Robert Redford version and it was a letdown. Neither actor was able to channel Fitzgerald’s Daisy or Gatsby.

In Italy they’re calling it il Grande Gatsby; I don’t think you can get a more faithful title translation than that! It’s the type of movie I will probably go and see at an outdoor cinema this summer. Whether ¬†the film is good, bad or unremarkable, I’ll enjoy the experience anyway because I like watching movies outside. On the other hand, the forecast for this weekend is rain, so it’s not inconceivable that I’ll go and see it at an actual cinema in 3D.

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I must have read the last sentence in the book dozens of times in that final year of school, always trying to fathom it out.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.‚ÄĚ

But it’s not a line that should make sense when you’re 17. Only when you’ve lived a bit can you see that the past is always there and yet, ceaselessly¬†(to borrow Fitzgerald’s word), life goes on (unless you die, of course).

It’s an endlessly fascinating book. I’m sure it will live on and that I’ll rub up against it again, long after the film has left cinemas.

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Look Back at Paris

For now, this is my last post about our short trip to Paris.

The highlights of the trip were:

  • spending time with my 70 year-old mum who I don’t see very often because she lives in Australia and I live in Italy;
  • spending time with Signor Lu away from the domestic front; and
  • doing both of the above in the captivating city of Paris, the surface of which we barely scratched.

The Paris marathon

It hasn’t been a good year for marathons, has it? The New York one cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. The Boston event marred by acts of terrorism. In contrast, the Paris marathon seemed to be running smoothly – but I bet the Parisian pavements are hard on the joints.

We watched as the runners went by.

We watched as the runners went by.

La dolce vita? Wrong city, perhaps.

While we were out on the Parisian streets, doing our own personal marathon, I let my mum stop for a caffeine fix. (Kind-hearted, aren’t I?) ¬†Her verdict? French coffee is not that great. Or drinkable, even. To be fair, some of the caf√©s we stopped at were in highly touristic areas and could get away with serving any old muck because they clearly did not depend on customer loyalty. This happens in Italy, too, of course.

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Actually, we didn’t stop at this particular caf√©.

Sweet Paris 

On our final morning, we visited the café on the 6th floor of the Lafayette department store. It was a little difficult to find this coffee spot.

The pastries looked inviting – especially the strawberry ones – but Signor Lu and I were able to resist them because we’d had a generous buffet breakfast at the hotel. My mum, in contrast, still had an appetite. (Go septuagenarians! They’re taking over the world, you know.)

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Capitalism

It’s always reassuring to see protest posters in a city.

Capitalism has many faults but I’m not entirely against it.

What I’m more opposed to is mindless consumerism (which capitalism encourages) and fat cat politicians and bankers who misuse and misappropriate the funds they preside over.

I’m strongly opposed to exploitation, too, of course.

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Thatcher

And that brings me to Margaret Thatcher, who died while we were in the City of Light. Her politics were too hard, too lacking in compassion for me but she certainly left her mark. And she won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

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The French headlines roughly read:

Le Parisien: Something about love and hate (pardon my poor translation).

Libération: The grim reaper

Le Figaro: The woman that changed Great Britain

The End!

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Moulin Rouge

After our Paris by night experience, the same tour bus dropped us off at Moulin Rouge. We had tickets for the 11 pm Féerie cabaret show.

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Promotional poster found here.

The entertainment opened with a cheesy dance number in which the lyrics were something like “bonsy, bonsy” and the dancers wiggled their posteriors in an unbecoming fashion…fortunately the show got better as it went along.

There were many costume changes, and some of the garments were quite elaborate, so it was understandable that some of the dancers sometimes forgot to put their tops on ;).

Between the dance numbers, there were side acts: a ventriloquist, a strongman and his lithe lady friend, a topless woman swimming with giant snakes. None of these acts upstaged the dancers.

The pace was about right and the content light, fluffy and undemanding. (I caught my 70 year-old mum nodding off a couple of times, but it was past her regular bedtime.)

The highlights of the cabaret were the dancing and the costumes. The dancers were clearly professionals and there were some thrillingly high kicks during the can can. And the fancy frocks were somehow enhanced by the semi-nudity.

If there were recurring themes in the show, they were Paris for English-speaking tourists and toplessness.

As to the latter, it was never lewd or lascivious – just good old exhibitionism (look at me!). It was a bit like a day at a European or Australian beach.

However, we were sitting towards the back and so the nudity was not in our faces. Signor Lu suggested that the people in the front row were having a different experience. He holds the view that close-up nudity and more distant nudity are not quite birds of the same boa feather.

It was a fun night out. I clapped along, tapped my feet and smiled. Mercifully, the show was unlike the film (which I found unwatchable).

I could have done with less of the ventriloquist. (Apparently, once upon a time last century, he used to appear quite regularly on Italian tv. That is not a ringing endorsement for any entertainer!!)

The tour company picked us up outside the venue at the end of the night and drove us back to our hotel. The metro was closed by then.  The absence of transport problems rounded off a pleasant night out. 

I took a quick snap of the venue when we came out. No photos allowed inside.

I took a quick snap of the venue when we came out. No photos allowed inside.

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Paris by Night

When in a foreign city, do you ever watch those gaudy tourist buses (especially the hop-on-hop-off variety) go by, and feel smugly superior to the people on board?

In Paris, we put our pretensions aside and eagerly clambered aboard the France Tourisme’s double-decker tour bus¬†for a night-time tour of the city.

The bus drove through Paris traffic which was  an adventure in itself. The roundabout at the Arc De Triomphe is gargantuan and chaotic Рand completely worth experiencing from the relative safety of a big bus.

We listened to an audio guide part of the time. It cut in and out and my earplugs kept falling out. (Does anyone else have this problem or is it just me with my undersized ear holes?) I can’t remember any of the commentary.

My 70 year-old mum nodded off a few times but woke up when we stopped in front of the Eiffel tower.

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Our fellow night-riders went wild with their cameras /smart phones at the sight of Paris’ most famous building all lit up. Yes, OK, I took a few snaps myself.

At precisely 10 p.m, the Eiffel Tower light show began: sparkling and twinkling as though it were New Year’s Eve all over again.

It was spellbinding and slightly hypnotic. Definitely worth seeing.

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Paris: Where not to go for a drink on a Saturday night

We arrived in Paris on a Saturday afternoon, Signor Lu and I.

Without any hiccups, we got got from the airport to our hotel via the¬†‚ā¨10 roissybus. (A multilingual on-board screen made the route crystal clear.)

At the hotel, we met my mum who had arrived from Australia two days earlier.

Our hotel was in the 8th arrondissement, a 5-minute walk from the famous Parisian department stores, Printemps and Lafayette.

We decided to visit Printemps on that first evening. Not so much for the shopping – retail therapy is not my thing – in fact, rather than buying things in shops, I take photos of them. Then I spend hours debating whether I really want them or not. Pardon the digression. We went to Printemps for the panoramic terrace and a pre-dinner drink.

The panoramic terrace did not disappoint. It provided our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

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The drink and snack options, though, looked a bit lame (cafeteria-style) and so not what we were looking for on our first night in the so-called gourmet capital.

Printemps has other eateries besides those on the Panoramic Terrace so we decided to explore them. It was not particularly easy to find them, even with the store map in hand.

Eventually we found the Printemps Brasserie and had a drink under the opulent Belle Epoque glass cupola.

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However, because of the store’s closing hours, it’s not really an ideal spot for a Saturday night drink. Snacks were not being served when we were there at 7.15 p.m. and they had run out of Aperol Spritz!

We drank campari mixed with lemonade instead. ‚ā¨ 7.30 a pop, which is mildly extortionate.¬†(We had to mix it ourselves, pouring the lemonade in from a small bottle.)

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The mirror-topped tables allowed us to gaze at the handsome ceiling without straining our necks.

The people-watching was unremarkable: there were few of them (people, that is)  and they looked very normal.

Swanky though it may be, I would not recommend the Printemps Brasserie for a pre-dinner drink on a Saturday night. Go elsewhere!

I'm enjoying flicking through the Printemps store catalogue.

Nevertheless, back in the comfort of my own home, I’m enjoying flicking through the Printemps store catalogue.

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