Archive for the ‘Holidays and Festivals’ Category

The Italians have a few sayings about the Month of March.  “Marzo pazzarello: Un giorno brutto, un giorno bello (Crazy March:  One day ugly, one day beautiful,” is a common one.  Another is, “Marzo pazzarello:  esce il sole e prendi l’ombrello (Crazy March: The sun is out and you bring an umbrella).”  Whichever saying you prefer, March is just…well…CRAZY!!!  Italians are generally referring to the weather when they speak of Marzo Pazzarello.  However, lately, it hasn’t just been the weather that has been crazy in my life!  It seems as if the March winds have blown my world into a perpetual cyclone!  Everyday I seem to be spinning in multiple directions, with multiple things to attend to.  These past few weeks, I’ve been completely consumed by my trip to Barcelona,  hosting a birthday luncheon for a good friend,  attending a local festival, recovering from a cold, and starting a new job.    There’s more craziness to come, too, including  attending a going-away party,  teaching English lessons, and preparing for house guests.  I can only hope that both the weather, and my daily life, is a bit calmer in April!

With all of this stuff going on, it’s been really difficult finding the time to create a new blog!  I know that I still owe all of you the stories, photos, and recipes from my trip to Barcelona.  Due to timing constraints, I have to push that post off until later in the week.  It will take me much longer to put everything together for that one.  Instead, however, I’d like to share with you a bit from my visit last week to the nearby town of Salemi.

View of the countryside from the historic center of Salemi

View of the countryside from the historic center of Salemi

Salemi is a lovely town about a 30-minutes east of Marsala.  It has received a lot of global press attention lately.  In an effort to restore the town’s ancient historic center, Salemi’s mayor has offered to sell villas that were mostly destroyed in a 1968 earthquake, for just 1 Euro.   There are, of course, some stipulations and conditions that must be met for restoration, but it’s still a unique investment opportunity.  For more information about this program, click here.

One of the villas destroyed by an earthquake in Salemi

One of the villas destroyed by an earthquake in Salemi

The reason that I decided to visit Salemi had nothing to do with the 1 Euro villas.  Instead, I was there for Le Cene di San Giuseppe (The Feasts of Saint Joseph).  Each year, on March 19th, Italians celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, which is also their Father’s day.  Joseph, the husband of Mary, and earthly father of Jesus, represents the ideal Christian husband and father.  In addition to being the patron saint of families, Joseph is also the patron saint of many other things, including carpenters and tradesmen, and pastry chefs.

Here in Sicily, St. Joseph is revered for saving the  country from famine in the Middle Ages.  According to legend, Sicily had suffered a severe drought, so the people prayed to St. Joseph to send rain for their crops.  They promised to prepare a huge feast in his honor if their prayers were answered.  The rains came, and thus the feasts were prepared and placed underneath alters as an offering to St. Joseph.  This custom is still practiced, and is especially evident in the town of Salemi.

Each year, the people of Salemi create elaborate alters made of bread to honor St. Joseph.  Dough is shaped into many intricate, and symbollic shapes, such as bunches of grapes (symbollizing the eurcharist), ladders and hammers (symbollic of Joseph’s life as a carpenter), fruits and vegetables (symbols of the abundant harvest that saved Sicily from famine), and many more.  The shapes are blessed by the priest and pieced together on branches to form the alters.  Then, gifts such as wine and food, as well as sprouting beans and even goldfish, are laid on or beneath it.

One of the many bread alters

One of the many bread alters


Close-up of some of the symbollic bread shapes

Love as I have loved you.  ~John 15:12~

Love as I have loved you. ~John 15:12~

In addition to the alters, there is the traditional Feast of St. Joseph.  This takes place inside La Chiesa di San Giuseppe, which also has the largest, and most elaborate, of the bread alters.  For the feast, many dishes of food are prepared by townspeople for the feast (think of it as a giant potluck).  There must be a minmum of 19 meatless dishes, but no more than 101, and a plate of spaghetti topped with olive oil, bread crumbs, parsley, cinnamon, and sugar must always be included .  Three children (1 girl and 2 boys) are asked to sit at a dinner table.  These children are symbollic of the Holy Family of Mary, Jesus, and Joseph.  The priest blesses a dish of food and then serves the “Holy Family.”  They take a bite, and then offer the rest of the food to everyone else in attendance.  This takes place one dish at a time, so the feast seems to be neverending.

The bread alter inside Chiesa di San Giuseppe.  This is only the top half of the alter, as you can tell by where people's heads are in the picture.  I just couldn't get a good shot of the whole thing because of the crowd.

The bread alter inside Chiesa di San Giuseppe. This is only the top half of the alter, as you can tell by where people's heads are in the picture. I just couldn't get a good shot of the whole thing because of the crowd.

The "Holy Family" being served at La Cena di San Giuseppe

The "Holy Family" being served at La Cena di San Giuseppe

Local women serving up spaghetti with olive oil, cinnamon, sugar, parsley, and breadcrumbs.  This was given to the "Holy Family", as well as everyone in attendance.

Local women serving up spaghetti with olive oil, cinnamon, sugar, parsley, and breadcrumbs. This was given to the "Holy Family", as well as everyone in attendance.

There are many traditional pastries that are served in honor of La Festa di San Giuseppe.  Two of the most popular are zeppole (sugar-coated doughnut holes), and sfinci.  Sfinci di San Giuseppe are made from the same dough that is used to make cream puffs (bigne’).  The dough is fried or baked, and then filled with pastry cream, whipped cream, or sweetened ricotta.  Alternately, they can also be eaten unfilled, and simply drizzled with warmed honey.  While I didn’t see either of these pastries in Salemi (just cannoli, pignolatta, and cassatelle), they were available in the pastry shops here in Marsala.  Here is a recipe for Sfinci di San Giuseppe, which comes from Victoria Granoff’s cookbook, Sweet Sicily. The book also contains recipes for the other pastries I mentioned, plus many more.  I have to admit that I have not tried this recipe.  I’m trying to avoid having any sweets in the house for ahwile.  If they’re here, I’ll eat them all!  If you do decide to make this recipe, though, please let me know how it turns out.  In addition, if you have better recipes for either of these treats, please send them along to me.

Sfinci di San Giuseppe

8 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine, cut into ½ inch cubes

¾ cup water

1 Tbsp. sugar

Pinch of salt

1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

4 eggs

Vegetable Oil for frying

1 recipe crema pasticciera (recipe follows), or ½ cup warmed orange blossom honey.

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the butter or margarine, water, sugar, and salt to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon until all the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and add the flour all at once, stirring with gusto until the dough forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan. It will be sticky. Allow it to cool, stirring every now and then to release steam, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 inches of oil in a heavy saucepan to 325 degrees on a deep-fry or candy thermometer.

Beat the eggs into the dough one at a time, making sure that each one is well incorporated before adding the next. The dough should be loose, but not runny.

To fry the sfinci, dip a tablespoon first in the hot oil (the oil will prevent the dough from sticking to the spoon), then scoop out a spoonful of dough and drop it into the oil You can fry a few at a time, but don’t crowd the pan. After about 1 ½ minutes, the dough will begin to brown and puff up. Turn it over, and an amazing thing will happen. The sfinci will pop open and puff up to about twice their size. This may happen slowly or all at once – each one is different. Continue to fry, turning the sfinci once or twice, until evening browned. When they are done, drain them on paper towels.

If you are going to fill the sfinci, allow them to cool completely, then split them open and fill them with a ricotta filling (like in cannoli), pastry cream, or whipped cream, using a large spoon or pastry bag. To serve the sfinci with honey, keep the fried sfinci warm on a platter in a 250 degree oven until they are all cooked, then drizzle them with honey and serve immediately.

Makes about 2 dozen.


Read Full Post »


Our “Open That Bottle Night” didn’t quite go according to how I had planned it.  Originally, I had wanted to pair the perfect meal to go along with the bottle that Jay and I had chosen to open.  I had already gone out and purchased all of the necessary ingredients to make Bistecca Fiorentina (grilled, thick Porterhouse steak), roasted potatoes, a salad of fresh arugula and parmigiano, and molten chocolate souffles.  Jay and I were really excited about sharing a perfect, romantic evening over great food, and amazing wine!  However, as so often happens in life, other things came between me and my plan.

Earlier in the day, we attended a party to celebrate the 1st birthday of our friends’ son. We were originally told that just cake, ice cream, and coffee would be served.  Upon arriving, however, we quickly discovered this was not the case.  There was a table completely filled with food (including some yummy Thai and Philippino dishes), not to mention 3 different cakes!  We didn’t want to be rude, and sampled a little bit of just about everything.  We were especially excited about all of the yummy international dishes.  Needless to say, by the time we left the party, the thought of a big dinner was far from our minds.

Even though our initial plan was obviously no longer going to happen, we didn’t want to just cancel our “Open That Bottle Night.”  We still really wanted to drink the special bottle of wine that we had chosen.  So, we opted for Plan B.  On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket and picked up some cheese, salami, and bread.  Instead of dinner, we enjoyed our wine with a few simple appetizers and each other’s company.  While the wine would have been amazing with the orginal meal that I had planned, it was equally as wonderful with just snacks and good conversation.  It was just another reminder for me that things don’t have to be “perfect,” to be perfect.

I know what you’re wondering…”Which wine did you drink?!!!”  Without further ado, our selection was…..


2004  Lucente – Luce della Vite, Toscana, Italia – 50% Merlot, 35% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon

We chose this wine for several reasons.  First, Jay and I have wonderful memories of meeting the winemaker, Lamberto Frescobaldi, this past November.  He sat at our table at a wine dinner that we attended, and even signed several bottles of wine from his collection for us.  He and his family also own the famous Marchesi de Frescobaldi, which has been producing wine for over 700 years!   Second, we simply LOVE Tuscan wines!  Who am I kidding…there aren’t many wines that we don’t love!  However, both Jay and I have a soft spot for for red wines from the region of Toscana.  Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano…we love them all!  Third, Lucente is a wine that is available for purchase in the United States.  I wanted to share a wine with all of you wonderful readers that you could also easily try for yourselves without having to make a trip to Italy (although, I think that you should do that, as well).   Finally, we have a second bottle of Luncente that we can continue to hold onto for another couple of years and see how it changes.

Jay and I with Lamberto Frescobaldi

Lamberto Frescobaldi, Me, and Jay

The origin of Lucente has an interesting story.  In 1995, the Frescobaldi family joined forces with Robert Mondavi to make “world-class Italian wines.”  These two wine-making giants jointly purchased land, each family with a 50% stake in the company.  Their first wine, Luce, was released in 1997, followed by Lucente in 1998.   However, in 2004, the giant American wine corporation, Constellation, took over control of Mondavi.  Lamberto Frescobaldi did not want to be part of such a large corporation, so he purchased Mondavi’s share of the Luce company.    He is now completely in control of viticulture and oenology for both Luce wines, as well as Marchesi de Frescobaldi.

So, what did the rest of you drink for “Open That Bottle Night?”  I want to hear about what you drank, as well as the stories from your evening.  So, leave a comment and let me know! 🙂

Read Full Post »


When I first started drinking wine, the thought of purchasing it, but not drinking it right away was not one that ever crossed my mind.  If I bought it, I drank it within a few weeks…a few months, tops!  Of course, at that time in my life, the thought of me spending over $10 for a bottle was also pretty much insane.  Boy, have I come a long way!  Now,  I intentionally buy “keeper” bottles.  They are generally wines that need a few more years to mature, and are usually much more expensive than what I would pay for wine to drink on a daily basis.  These are wines that I always say that I’ll drink on a “special occasion.”  However, when a special occasion arrives, I often find myself wanting to drink something else instead, and continue to hold onto those other precious bottles.  I always think, “These wines might be good now, but just think how much better they will be in a few more years!”  So, they stay on the the rack until the next special occasion, upon which I usually, yet again, store them until another time.

Well, this past week, I learned about an annual event called, “Open That Bottle Night,” which is now in its 10th year.  The purpose of this evening is to give me, and others like me, the perfect excuse to open up one of those special bottles that we’ve been hoarding away.  The vintage doesn’t matter, nor does the type of wine or the price.   The whole point is to drink something that will be memorable.  This could be a bottle that you received for a wedding or graduation, one that you purchased on a special vacation, or even one that you haven’t really been storing, but have just always wanted to try.  This year, individuals and restaurants around the globe will be hosting “Open That Bottle Night” parties on Saturday, February 27th.   You, too, can celebrate the evening by simply opening up your own special bottle, either with a group of people, or simply with a spouse or good friend.  Eat some great food along with it, laugh, take pictures, and have fun! 

On Sunday, March 1st, I’ll be posting photos and a story about my own “Open That Bottle Night.”  I’d love to hear about your experiences, too.  Leave a comment and tell me about the wine that you chose, the story behind it, and the people that you shared it with.  You can also send your story and photos to  OTBN@OpenThatBottleNight.com to have it featured on the website.


Read Full Post »


This past weekend, Jay and I headed to the town of Acireale for Carnevale.  While Venice is probably the most well-known Italian city for Carnevale celebrations, many other cities all over Italy also host festivities.  Here in Sicily, the cities of Acireale and Sciacca host the largest Carnevale events.

The word ‘Carnevale’ is of Latin origin.  It comes from “carne levare,” which means “cessation of meat.”  Carnevale celebrations always take place during  the weeks prior to the beginning of Lent, which is a time that Roman Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat.  In addition, people are supposed to give up something they enjoy as an act of penance to bring them closer to God.  Most often, these are things like sweets and alcohol.  Carnevale is sort of like a last chance to enjoy all things frivolous and hedonistic before devoting 40 days to God in preparation for the Holy Easter holiday. 

Even Jesus comes out to celebrate Carnevale!

Even Jesus comes out to celebrate Carnevale!

Acireale’s Carnevale celebration was a feast for the senses!  Colorful, allegorical floats made their way down the streets in the Baroque city center, music blaring from loud speakers perched on the floats themselves, followed by marching bands, and performers adorned in elaborate costumes.  Masked and costumed festival-goers tossed confetti and sprayed silly string at one another.  The smell of crepes, cotton candy, and fried pastries wafted through the air.  It really was quite an experience! 

The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper float had canons that shot even more confetti into the air.

The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper float had canons that shot even more confetti into the air.


An example of some of the elaborate costumes worn by parade participants.

An example of some of the elaborate costumes worn by parade participants.


The most memorable moment of the festival involved me accidentally spraying silly string into the face of a carabinieri (police officer) because my intended target (a teenager who had just nailed me with the stuff) ducked.  OOPS!  Luckily, the man didn’t see where the silly string came from.  A sweet, little old lady behind me, who was also armed with silly string, I might add, got a good chuckle out of it, though.  Really, it’s impossible to go to Carnevale without coming home covered in confetti and silly string!  It’s been 4 days, and I’m still finding confetti in unsuspecting places!

Me at the end of the night.

Me at the end of the night.

In Italy, special pastries are prepared for just about every holiday, and Carnevale is no different.   The names of these sweets vary from region to region, but the basic concept is the same: Sweetened Fried Dough.  YUM!  In Tuscany, they call them cenci (“little rags”).  They’re called bugie (“little lies”) in Liguria.  Here in Sicily, they are chiacchiere (“little gossips”).  I’ve been told that they get their name from the chatty hisses and pops that are made when the dough is dropped into the fryer.  Regardless of what they are called, they are absolutely delicious!  I purchased some yesterday for Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday).  In additional to the traditional recipe, I was very happy to find some that had been drizzled with chocolate.  They must have known that I was coming 🙂

Chocolate Drizzled Chiacchiere

Chocolate Drizzled Chiacchiere

Even though I did not make my own chiacchiere this year, I do have a good recipe for them that was given to me by one of my friends here in Marsala.  Although Carnevale  has officially ended for this year, you can enjoy these crunchy little sweets year-round.



1  1/2 cups “00” or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 Tbsp. lard or butter, chilled

1 egg

3 Tbsp. sweet Marsala wine

Vegetable oil for frying

Powdered sugar for dusting

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a medium mixing bowl.  Cut in the lard or butter until the mixture resembles course cornmeal.  In a small bowl, beat together the egg and wine until blended.  Pour into the flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes.  Cover and refriegerate for one hour before rolling out.

Divide the chilled dough into 4 pieces.  Keep the unused portion covered while you work.  Roll a piece of the dough very, very thin, dusting the work surface with a tiny bit of flour if it sticks.   The thinner that you roll out the dough, the flakier and crispier the cookies will be.  Cut the dough into 2 by 4-inch strips using a fluted pastry wheel or a pizza cutting wheel.

In a deep fryer, or large, heavy pan, heat 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees.  Fry a few chiacchiere at a time, turning once, until lightly browned, about 45 seconds per side.  Remove and drain on paper towels.   Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy.

Read Full Post »