Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wetting Down

At last we were able to make time to host a "wetting down" event for Josh's promotion to Lieutenant Commander.  (just 8 months late!)  We decided to do a family friendly version and planned the meal at Emilio and Mariska's country house in the lovely Sicilian countryside.   There is some uncertainty about the tradition of "wetting down" a newly commissioned Naval Officer, but it's been a part of Naval history for many years and seems to include good food, good drink, and a gathering of co-workers and friends to celebrate your newest increase in rank. The "wet" part may have involved tossing the officer into the sea and/or the hosting of the event at the bar/pub frequently by the attendants - it is not a "formal" Navy event so made up our own rules and enjoyed a lovely day and some delicious food with friends from Josh's command.  
 For the adults:  A delicious 4 course meal including anti-pasti, wood-fired lasagna, grilled meats, salad, and dessert.  Emilio and Mariska were fantastic hosts!

For the kids:  Animal and outdoor adventures galore!  There were turtles, rabbits, cats, dogs, and sheep.  The kids even got to bottle feed some baby lambs!

One of Sicily's most celebrated desserts...Cassata Siciliana!

I'm usually quite quick to jump in and try new local foods (especially desserts!), but for some strange reason it took me a year and a half to take my first bite of cassata.   Guess I'm a granite and gelato junky at heart!
  The cassata siciliana consists of round sponge cake moistened with fruit juices or liqueur and layered with ricotta cheese,candied orange peel, and a chocolate or vanilla filling similar to cannoli cream. It is covered with a shell of marzipan, pink and green pastel colored icing, and decorative designs. The cassata is topped with candied fruit such as cherries or slices of citrus fruit characteristic of Sicily.

Truth be told, I have decided that I don't really like ricotta cheese which is a big shame considering there are so many fabulous local desserts that are filled with freshly made ricotta...oh, well...I usually have a group of small sidekicks with me that are happy to help me finish off a tasty treat that I don't like!  I still feel the need to keep trying ricotta filled things just in case my taste buds surprise me and grow up.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Smileys come to Sicily

We were surprised and excited last week when my friend Lindsey e-mailed to ask if we were up for a spontaneous visit from her and the kids for a few days during spring break. Mike is the pediatrician on the Navy base in Rota, Spain and they were hoping to fly on a Space Available military flight to come and see us. They ended up getting to spend a few "bonus" days with us since it turned out to be quite difficult to get back home on a Space A flight. All in all, we had 7 days together with our combined tribe of 6 preschoolers (Lindsey's 4 y.o., 2y.o, and 3 month old + our trio!) - it was crazy, but a lot of fun too and we enjoyed sharing some of our Sicilian favorites with them.

The main piazza and duomo on Ortygia

An outing to Siracusa - a charming Baroque city on the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Siracusa was built on an ancient Greek settlement founded by the Corinthians in 734 B.C.  (For a time it rivaled Athens as the most influential city of the Greek world.)  
Elise and Tatum enjoyed crafts and puzzles galore!

Up, up and away...riding the funivia (cable car) to Taormina!
Ciao Bella!  What a treat to watch the girls have so much fun together! 
A few of the beautiful piazzas in Taormina.
A lovely rocky beach at the base of the cable car...the kids loved looking for sea glass and other nautical treasures!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gnocchi and Ragu - An Italian Cooking Experience.

Last week I joined two of my lady friends to try our hands at some home cooked Italian food. Anna had gotten a recipe for gnocchi from the guy at her local salumeria (deli) and her neighbor had shared a homemade meat sauce recipe, too.

Steam grated carrot and onion and chopped celery for a few minutes before adding ground beef. Brown ground beef and cook until "dry."

Add passatta (tomato puree) and a touch of red wine.

...and a touch of olive oil.

Simmer on low for about an hour.

Gnocchi are a type of dumpling prepared with potatoes, flour, egg, and salt.

Once you get the dough to the right consistency, roll them on a floured surface and cut them to size.

Place dumplings in boiling water - they will rise to the top when they are done cooking.


Buon Pasqua.

Here's a photo review of some of our Easter festivities and some Italian traditions, too.

Our play group got together for an Easter party and the kids got to dye eggs for the first time this year.

Elise in her Easter dress with the giant flower Josh and the kids picked for me. Somehow we managed to miss a photo op of the boys in their matching dress shirts. :)

Caleb bites into the giant Uova di Pasqua that he got from our babysitter, Miss Santa. Caleb had a little pony stuffed animal inside his egg and Elise had a furry orange wallet.

Collure con L'uovo - Our traditional Italian Easter bread made by the pasticerria in Motta. (under the icing flower there is a baked/hard cooked egg) The tradition of giving Easter bread to friends has now mostly been replaced by the giving of chocolate eggs.

The recipe! (well, sort of.)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Beauties.

Here are some unusual flowers that we've discovered during our recent walks in the valley near our home. Though I'd never consider myself an expert, I come from a long line of flower lovers who can identify and name more than a handful of spring's usual suspects. It's always exciting to find something new. Can you identify any of these?

The Hunt for Asparago Selvatico.

This time last year I was reading "In Etna's Shadow" and trying to experience all the adventures that springtime in Sicily has to offer. Springtime in Italy brings to mind many of my own childhood memories of foraging with my Grammy. She was always on the lookout for dandelion greens, puffball mushrooms, and watercress as we trekked through the woods and alongside streams looking for early (and edible!) signs of spring. When I read about the elusive and tasty "sparaci" (early tender shoots of asparagus), I was intrigued and inspired.
At the time I was able to identify a few wild asparagus plants in our yard, but I could never find anything that looked edible in or around the plants. The season quickly passed me by. When I saw asparagus for sale at the market last week, I was once again motivated to search for the thorny, wiry branches in the yard with hopes of finding the tiny green shoots that are meant to be savored! I went back and re-read the section of the book on wild asparagus, which noted how much careful searching was needed to find those little jewels amidst the thorns and at last, I was able to figure out exactly what I was looking for.
Much to Elise's delight, she and I got a pair of scissors, some gloves, and a basket and walked along the roadside and around the backyard in gleeful pursuit of the sparaci. We were very excited with our spring bounty, even though it was only enough for a little snack. The added bonus of passing on a tradition of "foraging" for the culinary delights of spring was a treat as well.