Friday, March 30, 2012

quaint Ortigia

After visiting the ruins in Siracusa, Carrie, Ginny, Lena, and I wound our way towards the beautiful old port town of Ortigia.  Because of the narrow channel of water separating this island from the mainland of Sicily, Ortigia seems distinctly different from larger Siracusa.  It felt like we had left the hubbub of modern Sicily behind and had stepped back in time.

We wound our way through a fruit and vegetable market, stopping here and there to snap pictures or dip into Sicilian ceramic shops.  Carrie snapped this photos of Lena on my back as I bent over to take pictures of sun-dried tomatoes.  Someone was getting a little weary of all the adventuring!

Eventually we walked into the blindingly white central piazza, Piazza del Duomo, where all the buildings and pavement gleamed of clean limestone.  After some perusing of menus, we settled on a charming little trattoria with amazing pizza offerings.  I ordered un mezzo litro del vino bianco della casa (hope my grammar is right, but I meant "a half-liter of the house's white wine"), and we settled down to take in the piazza.

photo by Carrie

                                       photo by Carrie

The pizza was amazing.  I'm definitely taking our future visitors to this restaurant, with the strong recommendation that they order the quattro formaggio pizza: a four cheese pizza (made entirely with local Sicilian cheeses) hot out of a wood-burning oven... to die for.

 photo by Carrie

After our dog-sitting adventure the other week, Lena is now obsessed with all animals, especially dogs and cats.  She followed this little cat all around the restaurant.

After we had wined and dined to our heart's content, we walked across the piazza into a trendy gelateria.  Lena had her first taste ever of pistachio gelato and loved it.  

We wandered back through town, snapping more pictures and soaking up the delicious sun, so warm and refreshing after a cold, wet winter.  Just a minute before we reached our car, I looked down and discovered we had tuckered someone out completely.  Sweet little thing, she slept the whole way home!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

the ruins of Syracuse

Meet Ginny (L) and Carrie (R), the two lovely ladies who stayed with us this week.  They are from the D.C. area, as Elliott and I are.  I loved having two girls my own age around to talk to, especially when it came to books, Downton Abbey, music, movies... the things that 25-year-old girls talk about these days.  Whether we work for a non-profit in D.C. or live in London or mother in Sicily, some things are always the same.

On our trip to Syracuse, or Siracusa (as the Italians say), we first stopped at the archeological park on the outskirts of town.  The first stop in the park was this overgrown Roman amphitheater, now turned brilliantly green in the lushness of Sicilian spring.


Later we turned in our tickets and walked into the main part of the park to see the three major sites: the Greek Theater, the Latomia del Paradiso (a sunken garden in an ancient quarry), and the Ear of Dionysius.


The Greek Theater was surrounded by caves in the hillside around top, and from one of the caves burst this rushing stream.  The theater, large enough to seat 1500, looks over the port and towards the Ionian Sea.  Workmen appeared to be building makeshift bleachers and a stage over the crumbling ruins of the old theater.  I later learned the INDA (the Italian national drama institute) will be performing classical plays here this year!  We might have to come back this summer...


photo taken by Carrie

We walked down into the "sunken garden" in the ancient quarry.  It was a magical place, somewhat overgrown and Secret Garden-esque, with trees dripping with lemons and oranges.


We found the Ear of Dionysius, a huge cave in the limestone quarry.  Legend has it that the tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse housed political prisoners in the cave.  The incredible acoustics of the cave allowed him to listen in to his prisoners' secrets.

                             photo taken by Carrie
We spent some more time wandering through the gardens and admiring various locals soaking in the peaceful day.  Meanwhile, hoards of tourists (about five school groups of Italian teenagers and seemingly endless cruise ship crowds all speaking German) filled the archeological park, and after awhile we'd had enough.  We headed out of the sunlit grotto and wound our way towards Ortygia, the rustic town on an island just off the coast of Sicily.  More photos from there tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

picnic in the valley

Hello, few and faithful who read this blog and care that I update frequently! I apologize for being MIA this week thus far.  We've been entertaining some friends of friends who are visiting Sicily on their way through Italy.  Lena and I have so much fun introducing Carrie and Ginny to a few of our favorite haunts near our home, and we also took a fun adventure to the ancient port city of Syracuse yesterday.  I've got some pretty pictures to share, hopefully tomorrow!

In the meantime, here's a bit of life around here...

For awhile now I've wanted to have a picnic with my friend Becca and her kids, but the weather's been cold and rainy and windy, and thus a picnic hasn't been at the top of our list of ways to hang out.  However, as of mid-March, Sicily seems to have changed her opinion about what season we're in, and spring has sprung!

And what better way to celebrate than to picnic in the great green outdoors?




It was warm and sunny and, other than a shepherd with his flock of sheep, we were the only people in the valley.  After our picnic lunch, we hiked a little more through the cacti and green grass.  The walk back up out of the valley at the end was the toughest part of our hike, but it was a rewarding way to finish a healthy, hearty picnic in our gigantic backyard!

Friday, March 23, 2012

her favorite thing

When I was little, my family and I lived in Melbourne, Australia, for 4.5 years.  In our kitchen there was a shallow cabinet with lots of narrow shelves: a spice cabinet.  My mom lined all her spices on the shelves... and my little sisters made it their mission in life to open up the cabinet, take one chubby little hand, and sweep all the spices off onto the floor. We have some really cute pictures of Emily and Julia doing this with oregano and cinnamon all over the floor around them.

As soon as I saw the open cabinets in our house in Sicily, I knew Lena had hours of fun ahead of her.  And I wasn't far wrong, as she figured out the game on our first day in our house.  Since then taking food off my shelves has become a daily activity, and recently she's learned how to extract Triscuit crackers and Sun-Maid raisins from their respective boxes to get a snack in the middle of all her labors.

As I toss (literally) all the bags, boxes, cans, and plastic bottles of food back into place several times each day, I try to take a brief second to enjoy this moment, this memory, this beautiful stage of her little life.

Because pretty soon she'll know how to open the bag of sugar, the box of cous cous, the bottle of olive oil... and then where will I be?!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

makin' marmalade

There are many things on my bucket list of life: read War and Peace, learn how to manipulate the manual settings on my camera, write a book of some sort, make Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon, and learn how to can food.

But when my friend invited me to make and can my own blood orange and strawberry marmalade last week, I was hesitant.  We had returned from France the day before and the day of the jam-making was my husband's birthday.  Yet it was Elliott who said, "Go!  I want you to learn, and so do you!"

So my sweet husband watched our baby alone for several hours on his birthday, all hoping for the reward of some really good jam at the end of the day.  I was determined not to disappoint him.

And I set off to learn.  One of my friends directed as we other three women cut, chopped, boiled, and supremed at her direction.  First we peeled the oranges:


Then we all sat down to "supreme" the oranges, which means we removed all the skin from each individual orange section.  This was slow, tedious work, but it does make a delicious marmalade with no orange skins to get caught in your teeth.


Meanwhile, we put all the orange skins to boil on the stove.  I cut up a big bowl of strawberries to mix in with the oranges.

We boiled all our jars on the stove to sterilize them.  The jars had been the most enigmatic part of canning to me, but they turned out to be straightforward.  We sterilized the jars and lids by boiling them for 10 minutes.  We would boil them again when they were full of marmalade.

After the oranges were surpremed and the skins had boiled, we mixed the orange pulp, strawberries, and finely sliced orange skins all together.

And into the pot they went, along with quite a bit of sugar and the orange-flavored water that had been boiling with the orange skins.

And then we let the mixture bubble, boil, and steam for a loooong time.  The candy thermometer had to get up to 225 F and it took about an hour to do so.  Meanwhile all the windows in my friend Becca's apartment steamed up and we basked in our own marmalade-scented sauna.


Finally the temperature reached 225 F and we had our marmalade!  We carefully poured it into the sterilized jars, screwed on the lids, and then submerged the jars into a pot of boiling water. With a tea towel on the bottom of the pot in the water, the jars had enough cushion not to break.  We let them boil for 10 minutes until the little button in the center of the lids was depressed.  Technically, our jars were now sealed, our marmalade was now "canned," and we could leave the jars out for a few months on our kitchen counters.  I don't think my marmalade is going to last that long, though, considering the serious dent Elliott, Lena, and I have made in it in the past week!

Now here you are.  Feast your eyes on the first batch of marmalade made by yours truly!  

(And yes, the birthday boy was very pleased.)

P.S. Many thanks to my friend Becca for contributing some of the photography for this post!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sunday in the valley

On Sunday afternoon we packed a picnic blanket, books, and oranges and walked down into the valley below our house.  We brought along the cute dog we're pet sitting this week as well as a length of twine.  After we found a quiet spot of green grass, Elliott tied the dog to the twine and the twine to his leg.  Viola! Long leash!  She snuffed and scurried about happily, nose to the ground, while we spread out on our blanket.

Lena still isn't sure what to think of our little doggie friend (although she does seem to be working on the word "dog").  With two animal-lover parents, though, she will be spending a lot of time with animals in her life!

Elliott and I settled down to read...

... while Lena crawled over and under and around and upon everything she could find, especially us.

Finally she settled down to eat one of her favorite things: a blood orange.

Such a peaceful, pleasant afternoon!  It is good for the soul to escape into natural beauty every now and then, I believe, and it doesn't hurt to have a book in hand, a dog curled up next to you, and a baby giggling up into your face.

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