Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Papassini Sardi

Ahhh... the annual papassini project...

We missed this last year as we were busy with the wedding stuff.  And I blogged about the process in detail  when we made the last batch here.  Wow, was that really in 2007?

Actually, this time Stefano and his mum did most of the work.  He had taken the day off to go skiing and by the time I arrived by train from Milan on Friday night, the papassini were already baking in the oven.  He smelt yummy, like vanilla and anise when he came to pick me up from the station.  

But I got to help out with, in my opinion, the best part.  The sugar glaze topping. 


What's not to love about the shiny and creamy sugary topping?  I had to hold myself back from licking clean the entire bowl of leftover glaze.


And the colorful dragees are just wonderful.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Trattoria La Foglia, Ortigia, Siracusa

We were hungry after all that walking.  Ortigia, with its plentiful restaurants, was the perfect place to stop.  Unfortunately, many of the recommended restaurants that we found online were closed on Sundays.  We wandered around and found the Trattoria La Foglia on a side street.  S had a vague memory of having eaten here once.

The restaurant is decorated in a charming and eclectic way with antique furniture, handmade linens and mismatched plates and glasses.  I would've called it an elegant shabby chic style.  S simply described it as 'messy'.  haha.


I ordered the sarde beccafico which came with a side of caponata which I absolutely adored.  Caponata is a Sicilian dish using eggplant, red peppers, capers and celery, and depending on the local variation, pine nuts and raisins, in a sweet and sour sauce.  The owner explained that the eggplant is first deep-fried.  Ah hah!  No wonder it tasted so good.  Aren't all things deep-fried? 

The sarde beccafico is also another typical Sicilian dish, where sardines are filled with breadcrumbs, pine nuts, breadcrumbs and sometimes raisins.  Some lemon juice and sugar give it a sour-sweet taste.  Of course, there are variations depending on which part of Sicily you're in.  The rendition here, in my mind, paled in comparison to the version I had on the island of Favignana two summers ago.


S had the pasta con le sarde or pasta with sardines, which in Sicilian style is prepared with sardines, fennel, pinenuts and breadcrumbs.  It was good, but not as good as S remembered. 


We finished the meal with homemade desserts.  Their granita with mandarini was fabulous with bright citrus flavors.  I had the torta della ricotta wich was really good as well.  The bill came up to around 50 euro which was rather pricey for what we had (no wine), but Ortigia itself seemed like an expensive/touristy area.  The family-owned restaurant had character though.  The owner was rather eccentric and at times brusque, while his wife was really soft-spoken and sweet.  Their daughter is the cook in the kitchen.

Trattoria La Foglia
Via Giuseppe Maria Capodieci 21
96100 Siracusa

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ortigia, Siracusa

The town of Siracusa itself was nothing special.  As we drove around (we were lost) we saw some parts of town that looked very ghetto and run-down.  The nice part of town is in Sirucasa's old city which is just across a bridge on the island of Ortigia. 


Ortigia is full of narrow streets, buildings with historical facades and crumbling palazzos.  It is as usual closed to traffic which makes for a very nice place to walk and explore.  The Duomo is an impressive sight, built in a cream colored stone.


The Piazza Duomo is also paved with the smooth stone and there were a number of children around on their roller blades.  In the late afternoon, there were locals and tourists alike taking part in the daily passagiata ritual.  


Another church on the other side of the piazza.  It's a little hard to see from the picture but there were orange and lemon trees hanging off the terrace on the left.

Walking along the city walls, we could hear the sound of waves crashing on the waves.  I can only imagine the scene in the warm summer months when the many cafes and restaurants spill out into the sidewalks.


Sometimes it's easy to forget that these historical towns are not just tourist attractions but places where actual people live. 


This is the town where the scientist Archimedes once ran through the streets shouting 'Eureka!', and where the Arabs, Byzantines, Swabs and Spanish have all called home.  With its rich history and Siracusa is definitely worth a stop on your Sicilian itinerary.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DMB in Milan

Last night we caught the Dave Matthews Band at the Palasharp stadium in Milan. It was my first time at this venue and from outside, it looked pretty ugly - a big ol' slab of concrete. But my excitement grew after we entered. It was small! We didn't have any problems finding seats that were close to the stage, around 10th row to the right of the stage. The view was fantastic compared to the last time I saw them at Shoreline in Mountain View. I could see their faces, no screens required.

And as usual, they did not dissapoint and played a fantastic show. In addition to the core band members, they also had Jeff Coffin, an amazing saxophone player and Rashawn Ross, a talented trumpet player. All together, DMB sounded as good I remembered, probably even better.

Dave was in a good mood, joking with the crowd about Italian food, wine and women. I really had a great time. Now being in Europe, I'm missing out on concerts in general but getting to see DMB in such a small venue?  Priceless.


Proudest Monkey
You Might Die Trying
Funny The Way It Is
Crash (Into Me)
So Damn Lucky
Lying In the Hands of God
Why I Am
Dancing Nancies
Shake Me Like a Monkey
Jimi Thing
Burning Down The House
You and Me
Don't Drink the Water
Baby Blue
Ants Marching

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Orecchio di Dionisio, Siracusa, Sicily

Our admission ticket to the Teatro Greco also included a visit to the Orecchio di Dionisio, or the Ear of Dionysius.

Right next to the theater is the Latomia del Paradiso or the Paradise Quarry.  It is filled with lush green vegetation and lemon trees.  The lemon trees were weighed down with fruit and Stef was tempted to pick some lemons. 


A short walk and we arrived at the famous cave called the Orecchio di Dionisio.  The cave was most likely formed out of an old limestone quarry.  It is a large cave and you can see that from the perspective of this picture.


The shape is like that of a ear, hence the name.  And because of this shape, the accoustics is really good so even a small whisper will resonate through the cave.


In one legend, the tyrant Dionysius used the cave as a prisonfor political dissidents where the acoustics allowed him to eavesdrop on the prisoners.  Another legend claims that Dionysius carved the cave in order to amplify the tortured screams of the prisoners.

And finally there's the possibility that the cave was formed naturally by rainwater run-off due to its position.  That seems plausible.  Why would someone go through the trouble of carving out such a huge cave for no apparent practical reason?  I guess this answer will remain a mystery.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Teatro Greco, Siracusa, Sicily

The next day was Sunday, my second and last full day in Sicily.  We didn't think we'd actually have been able to see so much the day before, but we did and we were playing it by ear and going at a leisurely pace.  So after breakfast (they make a mean cappuccino at the hotel, mmm) we decided to drive south to visit Siracusa.

With the completion of the brand spanking new highway connecting Catania and Siracusa, it took only a little over an hour to get there.  Our first stop, the Greek Theatre just outside the town center.  If you visit, do not ignore the signs to buy tickets at the bus station across the street, even if you do not see anyone collecting tickets at the entrance to the archaelogical park.  They ask for your ticket inside by the Greek Theatre, at which point you have to walk all the way back out and across the street to buy your entry ticket.  It escapes logic why they don't sell the tickets by the theater, and we weren't the only ones who made this mistake.    

Anyway, the theater is one of the largest of its kind.  Cut directly into the rock, it is still in use even today for plays performed in the summer.


From the top you can catch a glimpse of the sparkling blue bay in the distance.


We also visited the Anfiteatro Romano of Roman Amphitheater located near the main entrance to the park.  It's a little more overgrown and unkempt but worth a look just the same.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Taormina, Sicily

After our little snack break, we hopped in the car and drove back down towards Taormina.  Taormina is another town where they do not allow cars of non-residents to enter.  We parked in a lot outside and walked towards the city walls.


I've heard of Taormina, and that it was a beautiful town to visit.


And it was, with the well-preserved historical buildings and the narrow streets lined with stores and restaurants, many of them high end.


One of the pasticcerie or bakeries had this enticing display of frutta martorana, which are made of marzipan, a typical Sicilian specialty.  Don't they look so realistic?  They look almost too pretty to eat.  This is one dolce or sweet that I have yet to try. 

There were various piazzas that opened up into terraces with sweeping views of the coast.  At sunset, it was easy to see why so many people were enchanted with this town.


A church on one of the piazzas.


 And the charming stone stairways were lined with citrus trees.


And I loved seeing Mount Etna towering in the backdrop.

The town was fairly quiet in the off-season and I liked it that way. I can only imagine the bustling crowds of tourists in the summer.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bar Turrisi, Castelmola

*Warning - this post may contain some graphical content of sensitive nature.  Proceed at your own risk.   

S discovered Bar Turrisi during his last trip to Catania, 10 years ago.  The town of Castelmola is small and the bar just off of Piazza Duomo is hard to miss.

From the outside it looks like a regular bar.  But as soon as you step inside, the theme is apparent.  Can you guess what it is?

All three floors were filled with an eclectic array of antiques, all following the theme of course.  It was a little hard to ignore while I looked the menu over.


It is depicted in an exaggerated manner on everything from the table lamps to the chairs and the bathroom faucets.


This is probably not the place for you if you're one to be easily offended. 


But if you're up for some good laughs, this is definitely a unique spot and a must-do if you're ever in the area.  They serve appetizers, pizza, pasta, paninos, alcoholic beverages and of course coffee.


We had a coffee and a granita and it was pretty good.  :-)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Castelmola, Sicily

After we visited the 'Aci'-towns (Aci Castello and Acireale) we continued our drive up the Sicilian coast towards the famous town of Taormina.

We passed more trucks selling oranges.  At this point, I had a real craving for one of those juicy-looking fruits. 

We stopped at a road-side store and bought some mandaranci, which are essentially a cross between mandarins and oranges.  We ate them in the car and they were so good.  Sweet, juicy and tasty, fresh from the source.

And the scenery along the drive was not bad at all.


After about 40 minutes, Taormina and Castelmola, perched on the cliffs, came into view.


We decided to first visit Castelmola, which lay high above Taormina.  The road up was windy.  We had to park in a lot near the top as the road into town is open only to residents.  This was our ride while in Sicily - the Fiat Panda.


We walked up into the charming little town, and then climbed the steps to the very top where the ruins of the thirteenth-century castle remain.  I realize I didn't really take any pictures of the castle.  But the 360-degree views were spectacular.  

Looking down towards Taormina and Isola Bella.


And to the southwest, my first view of Mount Etna.  It had been covered up by clouds and fog all day and I had been on the wrong side of the plane when we landed.   It is the largest active volcano in Europe at 3,329 metres (10,922 ft) high.  I was overwhelmed by how big it was.  It towers over Catania and its surroundings.

One last look at the beautiful views and then we headed back down towards the town. There was an interesting bar that S visited 10 years ago that he wanted to take me to.   

Looking down towards the main piazza.  Isn't the mosaic pattern pretty?


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gong Hei Fat Choy!

That is the greeting that is heard through out the Chinese New Year festivities.  This year the first day of the Year of the Tiger falls on February 14, 2010.  It will be a quiet one for us this year, compared to last year when we were back home for the holidays.

It had been years and years (10, I think) since the last time I had celebrated CNY back home.  For some reason, my trips back never coincided with the holiday, or was I fearing the relatives' inevitable and relentless questions about my single status...

Anyway, it was just as I remembered.  The festive gathering of relatives, new clothes, lots of eating, the many rounds of loh sang*, and the angpow red packets.  Us 'kids' also had to make sure we greeted each relative nice and loud with their correct title, like tai ku ma, sei ku jeong, sam suk, yi sum, sai yi or dad's oldest sister, husband of dad's fourth sister, dad's third younger brother, wife of dad's second younger brother, mom's youngest sister.  

And the best part, getting to spend time with family, many of whom you'd only get to see once a year.

Wishing you a healthy and prosperous Year of the Tiger!

* yee sang - It is a tradition in Singapore and Malaysia to loh sang during the Chinese New Year. It is supposed to kick start an auspicious new year by collectively mixing the raw fish salad ingredients with chopsticks while saying phrases like "prosperity in the new year" "good health" "to a healthy stock market" and all that. ;-)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Aci Castello and Acireale, Sicily

After fueling ourselves up, we continued walking around downtown Catania and then decided to drive up the coast north of Catania.  Along the road, we passed by more oranges and other produce being sold off the back of trucks.


We passed the Ognina area, where S used to stay when he came for work ten years ago.  Soon we arrived in Aci Castello.  (Isn't it a funny sounding name?  Like... ahhhh chooo! ...castello).

What's there to see here?  Well, the Castello di Aci was hard to miss. 


It's perched high up on a rocky outcropping.  Luckily it was closed, so I didn't have to walk up to the top.  I was feeling rather lethargic from lunch and the early morning.  As we got closer, we could see how the castle forms a really sharp edge on one side.  Makes it that much harder for intruders, I suppose.


Back in the car we continued our way past Aci Trezza and end up in Acireale.  This seemingly normal town in fact is home to a pretty grand-looking cathedral.


At right next to it is the Piazza del Duomo with more beautiful looking buildings. 


It was early afternoon and rather dead while we were there.  I imagine the piazza would come alive later on with the locals taking part in their ritual passagiata or 'little walk'.
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