Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sicily Food: Lamb!

Those who know me, know how much I enjoy lamb. It is just about one of my favourite foods. Today, after a solid nap to recover from the Palermo Questura, we headed out to try and find some more EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). Amazing how much EVOO one can consume in a two week period. Any way, this trip took us into Castellemare del Golfo and the Enoteca there. We'd found good olive oil there before inexpensively - 16 Eu for 2l.

Not only did we get olive oil, but on our way out of town we found the butcher we liked so much on our first day in Casetellemare. He remembered us too! He must have seen my eyes light up when I saw the lamb carcass hanging behind the counter. He offered to sell me the whole thing, but I demurred (even I don't think I could eat an entire lamb, plus, I don't have any where to cook it, except the beach....). We did walk away with a nice collection of lamb chops. Keep in mind this was around 7pm ... what would I cook with it? The Alimenari on the way home from Castellemare was open and they had potatoes - a match made in heaven. Christopher was a little less certain because he is the dishwasher, and he knew that at home was waiting an entire meal's worth of dishes already from our lunch. But hey! That is the deal, we live here, so we cook! And clean of course.

The potatoes were astoundingly creamy and moist - after almost an hour at high heat they were a bit crisp, and melt in the mouth delicious. The lamb... well, a quick dredge in fresh rosemary, salt, pepper and into a hot pan with a little bit of EVOO. Divine. We paired the meal with a salad dressed with an EVOO/lemon juice dressing and a local white wine recommended by our landlord called "Grillo". There were some moments of pure food joy here this evening.

Sicily: 'It is a whole other country': Internet

It is important to remember that Sicily is a 'whole other country'. We have struggled mightily to get reliable internet. Here's what we've found out.

  1. Few people out in the 'country' (la campagna) have internet.
  2. if they do, it isn't through a cable, they use the cell phone network with a gizmo that takes a sim card and is about double the size of a key chain dongle. 
  3. Bandwidth is hard to come by. Upload and download are both expensive. For example we used up 3gig in 3-4 days doing nothing much - blogging, sending and receiving email. 
  4. You buy more 'time' on the internet at the tobacconist (Tobbachi) - in cash only.  The signs need to say Ricaricare and the have the symbol of whichever company you bought the 'dongle' from.  
  5. If you are more sophisticated than us... you may even be able to sign up to the offers your 'internet dongle' shows you online from time to time. 
  6. We find you have to reset the Vodaphone 'Dongle' a lot but it is a faster speed.  The TIM 'dongle' seems to be more reliable as long as we keep one device connected at all times.

Siicly: Palermo Questura, some Success

We had some success at the Palermo Questura today. We met Italy's busiest man - nameless I'm afraid, because officials here do not announce their names, nor their positions. However, he was the first person to say "yes". A qualified "yes", but "yes" nevertheless.

 For the record... Christopher thinks this is because this guy is definitely Sarah's demographic (Handsome Italian Man in a Uniform ;-)

We simply walked in past the line up of patient people and asked our question. We suspect that we walked past many other people who were also waiting to ask their question, but we aren't certain about that. I've always been of the view that if you are going to do something questionable, act like: a) you are doing the right thing; b) that you know it is the right thing. The corollary of this is Grandy's advice (my policeman Granddad); "if you are going to do something wrong, do it right and don't get caught".

So, we are now in receipt of an official receipt for an appointment for something. Who knows? It is a raggedy piece of paper that has a snazzy Italian stamp on it! We also discovered that we must produce a multitude of additional documents; birth certificates (long form, which neither of us have) marriage certificates, certificates of income, accommodations, etc. all officially translated into Italian.

Oh, and an official stamp, which costs 16 EU, but which you can purchase an any tobacconist. That we got! Anyone who wants an official stamp only needs to pay and they can have one, just about anywhere! Have I mentioned that the tobacconist also sells cell phone time (not phones themselves), internet time (not the internet device), lotto tickets, candy, booze, books, magazines and other random objects?

Monday, April 27, 2015


Anyone who reads this blog and knows Sarah at all knows how good she is at napping!

For the record... according to Sarah... Italians project NAP VIBES like no other people on Earth!

This seems to occur Daily from 1300hrs to 1900hrs... no matter how much coffee was consumed.

This occurrence is happening in real time as I write this post!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sicily: Questura Failure + Palermo sightseeing etc.

We went into downtown Palermo, to the head office of the provincial (territorial?) Questura to get Christopher's permit. Sadly, we'd been mis-informed about the address. Sigh. We went to the Questura which deals with Italians seeking permits.  Seeing as I'm not Italian, and neither is Christopher; it was the wrong address. We were supposed to go to some office in the suburban hinterland of Palermo, about a 40 minute drive from where we'd gone. I was desperately under caffeinated, having gotten up absurdly early and paid for train tickets to do this thing. We had no car, and tickets to return from Palermo that afternoon on the train.

The only thing to do was 'f' it and move on to see some sights of Palermo. We visited a very quiet Dioscean museum which houses art works unhoused from their original churches by WWII bombings. Some of the works were lovely, others disturbing. We were both very intrigued by some carved stonework - originally from a church facade that included every monster and half-beast imaginable. No photos were allowed and we were followed/guided throughout the museum.

Then we decided to just wander around, following whomever we pleased in the tiny side streets (called 'vicolos') and we stumbled on one of Palermo's larger street markets - it had everything + more. A few times over. The weirdest thing was the guy with a basket of guts that he put on bread and sold for a couple Euros. Man food, definitely - guys were all over that stuff! The vendor would reach into the covered basket and pull out a bunch of 'stuff' and slap it on a bun. Neither of us was brave enough.

We did buy some capers in salt from the Island of Pantelarea (off the coast of Sicily and reputed to have the best capers) and some olives from the province of Calabria and some salumi from Corleone.

Sicily: Our neighbourhood in Balestrate

I've been remiss in posting photos of our stunningly beautiful locale. We live in the valley of the gods as far as we are concerned.

Sicily: Wine Tasting

This past friday, Christopher was invited by a new friend to "go and get some wine". A few hours later, he was back. With 6l of wine. "They don't do small bottles"; he said. It was a man's thing, we wives were not invited.

Christopher reports;
First to Sal's place, then to Sal's neighbour who had boiled fava and eggs together for lunch. Lunch went on for a while. Then some more guys arrived. There might have been beer at this point. After quickly downing beer, fava and boiled eggs, we get on our way. All piled into the back of some random car. Luckily they were Sicilian guys, so even with Christopher, and the shepherd (a large man) everyone sort of fit. So it was a real, authentic man's thing. You turn at a big pile of garbage, and drive a while along a well tended road beside well tended farmland. You end at a courtyard - greeted by a burnt to a crisp red-head, who is the Sicilian proprietor. There's lots of back and forth and kissy kissy. Sal turns out to be the biggest talker of the bunch.


Christopher found the secret pics!

We go through this house entrance sort of space, then into a sort of cavern filled with new stainless steel barrels and apparently ancient wooden barrels the size of a small apartment. There's a bit of tasting - in plastic cups - the full size ones. There were around 11 barrels. No sniffing, no swirling. You drink it and you have to be a man about it. Hey, we're not driving, the other guy is!

The vino rosso is in the giant kegs - the wooden barrels. We all got one or two bottles each - the other guys had 4litre bottles.

Then there was a 'lets have one all together' after we paid the pittance for the wine. And then we drove back to Sal's neighbour's place and eat more fava and eggs and drink more beer. And then eventually the boys arrive back at Balestrate where the ladies have slaved over the fish course... yet more eating.
Not many photos were taken, it was a very manly affair.

Sarah reports:
When Christopher and Sal got back they were at great pains to explain how complimentary they'd been about us and how they'd received explicit permission to bring us along the next time they go to get wine!

Sicily: Soccer Semi Final Victory! Balestrate v. ?

This past week we'd seen posters up around town telling us that the hometown favourites (Balestrate) were fighting for their spot in the finals against who? Well, some lesser team as it turned out. Balestrate was victorious, although due to our late arrival we didn't see the game winning goal. The teams seemed pretty evenly matched - and yes, they were adults, not children (as I had thought from the posters).

We both really appreciated the sportsman like conduct of all the players. Even though there were a few penalties called, by and large the players weren't taking obious dives (which we both hate), and they were willing to allow their opponents to help them up off the field.

At the very end there was a bit of hooliganism for no reason (as is usual), but it didn't escalate into anything...

Finish the day off with wood fired oven PIZZA and ALCAMO white wine!

Sicily Gardens; Before, After, and After After

One of the many attractions of this lovely home in Balestrate was the small garden I saw in the photos. I enjoy pottering in the garden, and even more enjoy the super fresh produce it provides. I was a bit disappointed that when we arrived the garden was still in its winter clothes - seedy and chaotic.

I set to with the tools at hand - a pick-axe, mattock (small and large) and hoe. Unfortunately I have had tendinitis in my forearms and using these traditional tools made that flare up. Nevertheless, I did make some progress with modified techniques.

I planted the basil and lettuce, but was to tired to keep going with the other plants - tomatoes and parsley.

I must add that before I embarked on this gardening project I did ask our wonderful landlord if it would be ok and he assured me that it would be.. .

I am not certain whether my haphazard attempts inspired Giuseppe to take pity on me or whether he planned to weed and roto-till the garden any way; but for two extremely long days this week, our wonderful downstairs neighbour Giuseppe first weeded, then roto- tilled the little garden behind the house. Now it looks like the beautiful tidy garden that Christopher so admired across the garden fence in our side yard neighbour:
 or at least it is on its way there.

Sicily: Internet is Back

Time flies when you are relaxed. We'd no internet connection for a while, but i think it is sorted - you can buy more time at the tobacconist (go figure).