Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer 2012

La Dolce Vita!

School Daze...

Mr. Atkinson and Ms. Melendez came to visit us today.  We'll see them again on TUESDAY for the first day of kindergarten!
 After our teacher visit we headed to an "Off to School" party and breakfast goody swap with friends.  Lucas was happy to help lick the beaters after we made a triple batch of pumpkin apple muffins to share. 
Miss Anna is so crafty and fun.  She put together a great craft and letter activity for the kids and hosted us, too.

 Five moms and five new yummy breakfast treats to pop in the freezer and enjoy on early school mornings.  I think we're off to a good start already!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Etna Quota Mille

Today we enjoyed the lunch offerings of a lovely Sicilian agriturismo in the little mountain town of Randazzo.  (Gosh, I'm writing a lot about food lately...oh well, I guess Italy is kind of famous for that!)  This summer the primary care clinic at NHSig where Josh works had a large turnover in it's work force and we've recently welcomed 4 new doctors and their families to the island.

One of the other spouses and I thought it would be nice to have a welcome event of sorts and he suggested Etna Quota Mille as a perfect meeting place for our families to gather.  As is usually the case with agriturismos, there was way too much delicious food to enjoy...but we managed!  In addition to the wonderful food and beautiful setting, they also had a great playground and pool for the kids to enjoy.  If you come to visit us in the coming year chances are we'll take you here!  Since it's located directly north of us, (with Mt. Etna in the center!) we got to drive all the way around Etna (east of the mountain getting there and west of the mountain on the return).
The antipasti are always the best part...I think this was about half of them!  We continually make the mistake of tasting a bit of everything and then being too full to eat much of anything else.  Maybe one day we'll learn...or not.

We ate upstairs in the converted loft of the old farm building. 

A good looking crew.  The kids doctor, Dr. Schumacher was taking the picture, but his family is in the top left behind me.

The highest peak you see in the picture is the vent that often erupts on the eastern side of Etna. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Trattoria Paranza

Graziella and I had the idea a few weeks ago that we should go out to eat together some Saturday night.  It's not uncommon for us to join them for a Sunday lunch at their house (since they traditionally have a large family meal on that day), but we've never gone out anywhere together.  She was excited about the idea and wanted Maurizio to take us to his favorite fish restaurant in Catania. (they are also one of his customers!)

And so as planned, Mauro pulled up to our door in their black Mercedes at 9pm (we had the kids tucked in and Santa was watching them) and we headed for the city...unsure how we were going to handle the next 4 hours in only Italian and quite curious about what interesting seafood adventures were awaiting us at Trattoria Paranza.

Antipasti: Pesce Crudo (Translation - RAW FISH - i.e. "Italian Sushi")  I would not be exaggerating if I told you that it took me almost 30 minutes to eat this plate of fish.  I had to eat each bit with a piece of bread so as to make sure it went down all the way.  (NOTE: this plate was one serving)
In addition to the pesce crudo, we were also served ostrica (raw oysters) as part of the antipasti.  I managed to eat one...I think Josh ate two at Graziella's request.  You see, there's a very delicate balance between not looking like you're gagging something down and not complimenting something too much.  The former would just be rude, but the latter inevitably means that Mauro will order more for you. (this is a big problem for me - it's that Robin Woodworth-style enthusiasm that gets me in trouble every time)  Actually with a little salt and lemon juice, it wasn't bad..still, for me, one was enough. 
We were joined by church friends of the DiStefanos.  The husband was very sweet and tried to use English words whenever he could!  He was also quite happy to keep the Prosecco flowing...he asked me to take this picture. 
Primi: (first course) Pesce Fritto - big fish, little, fish addition to pulpi (octopus), calamari (squid) and gamberi (shrimp).  Mauro noticed that I was picking out the little fried bits of octopus and ordered me a whole plate of my own (little did he now that I was doing that because it had the best "fried" to fish/bones ratio...see what I mean!)
Secondi:  Pasta e' Risotto con Frutti di Mare - Wish I wasn't quite so full, as this course was fantastic...I was starting to feel a bit woozy thinking about all the other things "swimming" around in my stomach so I had to take it pretty slow.  They almost served us another course when this was done, but I really felt like I was about to explode so fortunately this was the last course for the evening. 
A big thanks to Mauro (far right) who treated us all and was a lovely host for our big Sicilian night on the town.  We are so thankful and blessed by their friendship and kindnesses to us. 
The kids lucked out too.  Our new tradition is to serve them smoothies and fun sides for dinner when we're going out to eat.  A cool idea I got from my cousin Emily.  :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sigonella Elementary we come!

Elise will be in Mr. Atkinson's class this year!  We were excited to see that her sweet friend Hannah will be in class with her as well.  We met Mr. Atkinson and his assistant teacher Ms. Melendez today and got to see Elise's super fun classroom!  It was nice to see the teachers and classroom in such a low key and relaxed setting.  Following our visit with an ice cream social at the school, wasn't a bad idea either.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Beginnings

As I write this, my parents are embarking on a journey to State College, PA where my youngest brother, Grant, will soon be making his college debut at Penn State University.

Less than a week ago, my brother Samuel, left our family's home on Garnet Mine Road with most everything he owned in the back of his car for his first big post-college experience - living in his own apartment and coaching/teaching in central PA.

Tomorrow we begin a fairly monumental new beginning of our own when we go to see the kindergarten class lists posted on the wall of the elementary school and have the chance to meet Elise's teacher and classmates for the coming year.

New beginnings have a way of playing with my emotions. (and I know I'm not along on this one!)  Excitement, fear, anticipation, anxiety,'s almost surreal.  (and I'm a wreck!)  I guess after crying for my first day of school for every year from kindergarten through college - scratch that - kindergarten through the last year I taught kindergarten at the age of 27...I could expect myself to a be a tad emotional about all this CHANGE.  Well, since it doesn't help anyone if I sit around and cry all day, I will meditate on the truth that I know, that God is steadfast and unchanging, that He is faithful and will never leave us alone, and that He wants what is best for the people I love even more than I do. 

Taking a deep breath, praying, hoping, and letting go...ready or not...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pesto Trapanese...a new taste experience

I am always looking for recipe inspiration...I often find myself wondering "How in the world has my mother made dinner almost every night of the week for the past 3 decades?"  I remember when we were first married and I was hard pressed to come up with one weeks worth of dinners that sounded edible (and that included a night of pancakes and/or a night of quesadillas!)  Thankfully, living in Sicily has been a constant source of inspiration, given the easy access to farm fresh ingredients and a developing intrigue with Italian food.  So...when two different friends in separate conversations recently mentioned something new they'd tried and loved, I just had to follow-up on their lead.

The dish is called Pesto Trapanese because it comes from the area around Trapani on the western coast of the island.  The cuisine of western Sicily tends to have a north African flair because of the influence of ancient trade routes to the area.  Also the terrain and climate of Sicily are more similar to that of Northern Africa, so Sicilian dishes tend to take on distinct flavors that are less common in dishes from the mainland of Italy.

My friend Sara shared her recipe with me, but I didn't have 5 cups of basil on hand so I found another recipe here and gave it a try.  It has essentially the same ingredients, just in different proportions.  Adding almonds and tomatoes to the list of usual suspects, gave the pesto a really unique and earthy flavor.  The kids all opted for pasta bianca after their obligatory "taste" of the new dish, but that didn't hurt my feelings too much - Josh and I really liked it!

Every time Lucas sees the camera he says "cheeeeeeese" and asks me to take his picture.  After I snap one or two, he then asks me to see it on the display of the these days!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


The kids have recently been excited about filling up the bathtub high enough to turn on the jets.  Over the past two years, one or more of them have been afraid of the jets at any given time, so we really haven't taken advantage of having a whirlpool tub as much as we could have.  Well, in an attempt to make the bath even more fun, I haphazardly poured in a little bit of Josh's shampoo thinking a FEW bubbles might be nice.  As you can see from the pictures, we were all but overtaken by bubbles.  It was a little crazy, but it sure was fun (in addition to being the messiest and longest bath ever!)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Something amazing and exciting...or at least super cute!

The kids were all tucked in, reading and chatting quietly in their room when Caleb called out, "Mom, come quick.  I have something amazing to show you!"  Well, I had to go and see what it was... when I went into their darkened room, the only thing I could see was the beam of his headlamp (thanks Ben and Libby!) shining in my eye and he continued "This is really exciting.  I can read this whole book by myself.  I can read Doodle Day."  He started out..."Mom said, Don't bother Dad, he's all tied up with work.  It's okay said Harvey, I'll just sketch a picture while you're at the store.  What?  You're going to draw on Doodle Day?  ARE YOU CRAZY?"  ...and so he continued with a pretty impressive paraphrase of the whole book (a recent library favorite!)  The most endearing part was that the book was upside down the whole time he "read it."  So thankful for my sweet and enthusiastic little boy!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Feste Medievali

The medieval hamlet of Motta Sant'Anastasia (which we now call home) hosts a delightful summer festival each August called Feste Medievali.  It is a week long celebration which includes food, goods/crafts, and lots of entertaining shows.  In true European form, the festivities begin at 8 pm and last late into the night.  Had the time been a little earlier we probably would have gone every night, but since 8pm is already passed the kids' bedtime, we decided to have one crazy night and stay out as long as we could manage!

Can you imagine which one of our children has been sword fighting with my brooms for the last 4 days? (oh, right...all of them!...though Caleb was especially intrigued)  We did get front row seats on the castle piazza for a sword fighting show and a flag throwing/drumming show.  They were amazing!  I could feel the pride welling up inside me as we took in all the sites of the festival and enjoyed the hard work and tradition of our little town.  The kids were spellbound and would probably have stayed for days.  We lured (and carried) them home with the promise of gelato as we headed down the cobblestone streets and wound our way through the bustling town.  It was already 11pm!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A nice day...

Today ended up feeling like a little breath of fresh air.  I'm not sure exactly why...maybe because it was the first day under 100 degrees this week...maybe because we've slowed down our schedule considerably and I'm finally feeling like the dark cloud of discouragement is moving on...I don't know.  We enjoyed some time at home this morning and headed to base in the late morning to volunteer with the summer reading program at the library.  An hour of reading books with other kids and then a picnic lunch on base was dreamy for Elise.
On our way home we ended up having to take a detour because the entrance to our road was closed for construction.  While I was initially frustrated, it ended up allowing both boys to fall asleep (making nap time a synch for me!) and we found a van full of Catania calcio goodies on the detour.  Caleb has been Mr. Soccer this week, so we were excited to get a jersey and flag from our local team.  After naps we headed to the pool on base for a play date with friends.  It was just lovely to feel cool for the first time in days as we splashed and played and chatted with friends big and small!  I guess sometimes it can just be that simple...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An impromptu cooking class...

I'm getting better at my Italian (poco e poco), but there are still a lot of things I unknowingly agree to or "think" I've communicated that don't ever end up coming to fruition...It doesn't bother me too much anymore and I don't feel nearly as "lost in translation" as I once did - All this to say that today I got a pleasant surprise when the women who help me clean came over all prepared to clean AND to teach me how to make Pasta alla Norma (a quintessential summer Sicilian pasta dish!) I think I mentioned that I liked it the last time they were here.
As with my arancini lesson last week, Pina and Piera were kind enough to bring over their homemade salsa pomodoro - which made things much easier and quicker!  One of these days I'll have to get a lesson their fresh tomato sauce (yum!)...but once that is prepared, here are the additional steps necessary for preparing this delicious Italian dish:
After the eggplant is peeled, it gets soaked for 10 minutes in salt water.  
Remove excess water from the eggplant slices and add them to a pan with sizzling hot olive oil.
It takes about 10 minutes for the eggplant to cook and brown properly.  They need to be flipped once during that time.
We love Pina and Piera!  They're so sweet to the kids and so dear to all of us.  Caleb thought the food smelled amazing and he was so excited to put his apron on and join in the cooking fun.

Ricotta Salata is a salted Italian cheese, typically made of sheep or goats milk.  It is firm enough that is can be grated so it is typically served on top of this pasta.  
Pasta alla Norma - Prepped and ready to eat!  

Tonight when we were sitting down to eat, Josh said, "The longer we lived in Japan, the more I realized I didn't really like Japanese food...but the longer we live in Italy, the more I really like Italian food."