Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I am determined to finish telling you about my trip to Sicily, even if I have been back home for well over a month! The memories may be fading, but I have my photographs and my journal. I haven't told you about the best parts yet, so please bear with me as I slowly plod on...

Thursday morning we slept in a little and then headed on toward Agrigento. In 581 BC the ancient Greek city of Akragas was founded here, and it is the remains of this city's temples that draw so many to Agrigento.

Temple of Concord

We arrived at our hotel mid-afternoon and ate a hurried lunch of packaged snack items from the JFK Alitalia lounge. We could see the Valle dei Templi from our hotel, but it would have been quite a hike. We decided to drive over since the park closed at 6:00 and we were running out of time.

Temple of Castor and Pollux

The ruins in the Valley of the Temples are dramatic and fascinating, but lack the beautiful setting of either Segesta or Selinunte. And unlike either of those sites, you are not permitted to climb around on any of the ruins.

Telamone (an 8 meter high supporting column in the shape of a man)
from the Temple of Zeus, which was the largest Greek temple in the world

View of the modern city of Agrigento from the Valle dei Templi
(That's a huge agave plant in the foreground!)

We didn't have time to visit the archeological museum, but had just enough time to see everything within the park. We returned to the parking lot and stopped for postcards and gelato before returning to the hotel. When we got back to the car, though, we realized the car keys were missing and had a few moments of panic. Fortunately, some kind soul had found the keys and turned them in at the ticket counter.

Back at our hotel (the Colleverde Park Hotel), we enjoyed a little quiet time in the garden before having dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food there was wonderful and the wait staff very attentive. I had a first course of lentil minestrone with croutons, followed by chicken scallopini with Pecorino and arugula. Both were delicious - the minestrone really hit the spot. I'd been craving some beans, but there just hadn't been an opportunity until that evening. The chicken was also very good. Best of all, I had my first-ever (at least that I can recall) cannoli! It was incredible.

After we had returned to our rooms and said good-night, I remembered that my room had a view of the Temple of Concord, which is lit up at night. I opened the blinds to get a peek and then went and got Bob and Chuck. We marvelled at the view for quite a while and took yet more pictures, before finally turning in. What a day.

Next time - Piazza Armerina and Caltagirone

Monday, June 27, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Blind Date Cookies

Page 58 in the old book / page 89 in the new book

These are soft cookies, each with a walnut-stuffed date inside and a thin glaze on top. I thought they were a little too sweet.

If these had been easier to make I might have liked them better. The dough is very thin - almost like a batter - and the stuffed dates must be dipped in it. Maida Heatter suggested using two forks to roll the date around in the dough until generously coated. I found this technique awkward and it took me a while to get the hang of it. Eventually, I found a method that worked for me. I would run the forks slightly below the date, lifting it and turning it.

I think I was muttering a lot while making these cookies - they weren't fun and the results were frustrating. The cookies came out various sizes and I didn't think they looked all that appealing. Surprisingly, most of the cookie panel loved them. Everyone was very impressed with the stuffed date and was wondering how I got the nut in there (which is very easy if you don't try to use a whole walnut half as specified in the recipe - I used half of a half, or a couple of smaller pieces). It was getting the date into the cookie that was troublesome!

Suzanne: "I LOVED these cookies. I could have eaten them all. I usually try to eat only one cookie, since I'm trying to watch my girlish figure, but I'm sure I'll be going back for more. Rating - 5"

Terri: "Although I love sweets, I thought the icing made the cookie too sweet. The walnut inside the date was a pleasant surprise. Cookie could have been bulkier - it is fairly flat with lump in middle (blind date). would be tasty with a sorbet. Rating - 3"

Laura: "Moist yummy cookie with delightful light glaze and a tasty surprise inside. Yum! Rating - 4"

Phil: "A blind date worth the risk. This cookie works at several levels – sugary sweet glaze and fruity sweet date with a textural mix of a cakey cookie and sticky date enveloping a chunk of walnut. Rating - 4.4"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.1

Next week - German Oatmeal Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Saturday, June 25, 2005

IMBB 16 - Blueberry Meringues

I'm not sure the world really needed a blueberry meringue, and I have to admit my motives weren't entirely pure when I hit upon the idea. I was trying to think of something for this month's IMBB, which is hosted by Viv of Seattle Bon Vivant and has a theme of Eggs. Meringue kisses seemed like a good idea, but I needed a twist - something that would make the little meringues my own. I didn't have to think about it very long. With my blueberry bush yielding three pounds of berries every couple of days, working blueberries into this IMBB was not just a given, it was almost a necessity!

I'm not sure I have ever made meringue before, so I looked around on the web and in a couple of cookbooks to get a feel for the basic proportions and techniques. Generally, you want to use 1/4 cup of sugar for each egg white and then 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tarter to stabilize the foam. I had trouble finding other recipes that incorporated liquid flavorings other than small amounts of extracts, so I wasn't sure if adding the blueberry would work. I finally found one recipe that used 2 tablespoons of lemon juice with 4 egg whites, so I settled on using 4 egg whites and 2 tablespoons of blueberry something or other.

Originally, I though I would make a blueberry syrup, but I ended up with something more like a blueberry sauce. Actually, I think the thicker sauce was probably a good thing. I was able to fold it in at the end without much trouble at all. If I were to do this again, I think I might try increasing the amount of blueberry sauce just a little - to increase the color and flavor. These have a definite fruity taste, but I'm not sure that it's a recognizable blueberry taste. I find that meringues are a little sweet for my taste, but I brought these to a family gathering this evening and they were very well received.

Blueberry Meringues

For blueberry sauce:
1 cup of blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs lemon juice

For meringues:
4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1 cup superfine sugar
2 tbs blueberry sauce

Preheat oven to 225 F and line two large cookie sheets with parchment.

Place blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan over medium high heat. Stir occasionally until all the blueberries have popped and the sauce is a deep purple color. Push through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding solids. Cover and set aside to cool.

Separate 4 eggs and place the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer. Cover and leave out so that the egg whites can come to room temperature (about 30 minutes). Add cream of tarter and then beat with the whip attachment until foamy. Slowly add the sugar and continue beating until very thick and stiff peaks form. [One recipe I referred to said to beat until the whites were no longer shiny, while another said to beat until glossy peaks formed. Huh? Doesn't glossy = shiny? I saw some other advice online which was more helpful. Rub a little of the meringue between your thumb and finger. The sugar should be completely dissolved - it shouldn't feel gritty.] Remove from mixer and fold the blueberry sauce into the meringue with a rubber spatula.

You can either spoon these out with a teaspoon, shape them with a pastry bag, or use a large plastic bag (I used a gallon-sized zip-loc bag) with one corner trimmed off. I tried spooning some out and then decided to use a plastic bag. Besides shaping them more uniformly, it is much easier to place them close together on the cookie sheet if you use either a pastry bag or a plastic bag.

I baked them for an hour and a half and then turned the oven off and left them in the hot oven for another hour. They were perfectly dry inside, though the ones on the top shelf were very, very slightly browned.

For the picture above, I served them with a little of the extra sauce, but they're good just as they are too.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Cook Next Door

Two memes converged on my little kitchen this week. I'm finally getting around to the second, "The Cook Next Door", which was created by Nicky of delicious days and sent to me by way of Zarah at Food and Thoughts. OK, so let's see...

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I have a few of vague memories that I'll share, but I don't remember when it was that I first cooked something entirely on my own. My mom was really good about letting us help in the kitchen and often set us to work chopping or prepping things for the freezer. I remember sitting around the kitchen table shelling walnuts and chopping green peppers, and standing over the sink hulling strawberries. I remember that I had a cookbook intended for children, but can't remember anything I made out of it. I was briefly in the Girl Scouts and earned one merit badge - in cooking. Most of the work for that badge was done in a marathon session at a friend's house with her mom officiating (bless her heart). I remember one of the things we had to make was a white sauce. Most likely the first time I cooked without assistance from my parents was some occasion when I (or we) got up early to make breakfast in bed for them. I do remember a time when we made some sort of omelet which as I recall involved jelly or jam. After we served up the first one, my Dad came downstairs to assist with the second (which I think did not involve jelly or jam!).

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Definitely my Mom. As I said before, she was really good about involving us with activities in the kitchen. That included the fun stuff - decorating the gingerbread cookies at Christmas, helping make dinner, etc., and the not so fun stuff - setting the table and cleaning the kitchen after dinner. I think I've probably acquired both her fears and biases in the kitchen. I've never asked her, but I suspect the cooking she enjoyed most was baking, as is the case with me. (See below for the fears!)

Do you have an old photo as evidence of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
I'm sure there is a picture somewhere of me eating, but I doubt there is a picture of me cooking. I've looked around though, and haven't been able to locate one - sorry!

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
My cooking fears are not about failure - I'm used to that - they're about burning the house down. I'm pretty sure I came by them naturally too (i.e. I inherited them from my Mom). I have never done any deep fat frying and only recently made a feeble attempt at flambéing. I don't think my Mom ever flambéed anything, but I do remember her frying chicken once. She prepared for that occasion by laying down newspaper over half the kitchen floor. Actually, as I think about it, I'd say her fear of deep fat frying had more to do with the potential for a mess than with the potential for a fire.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
This may be a little too big to qualify as a gadget, but my Kitchenaid mixer is my most valued tool in the kitchen. I can't think of a really big letdown, but I do remember a little gadget I bought with high hopes and few years back which turned out to be an utter failure. It was sort of like a tiny mandoline for slicing a garlic clove. It wasn't very expensive, so it was no great loss, but it didn't work at all.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
Neither of these is something I eat these days, but both were things I relished growing up. (If it weren't for all the bad press fat gets now, I'd be eating them still.) When we would have roast beef, we used to cut a thin crispy layer of fat from the roast while it rested and eat it on saltines or white bread. It was beautifully browned and seasoned with salt and pepper and just scrumptious! We also made onion sandwiches - thin slices of raw onion sandwiched between slices of heavily buttered white bread and seasoned with salt and pepper. Yum!

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don't want to live without?
Baked Beans

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!

Three quickies:
Your favorite ice-cream?
Can't list just one: Chocolate, Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia, and Butter Pecan

You will probably never eat?
Probably many things, but most certainly Steak tartare

Your own signature dish?
I only have a few recipes that are my very own and I've never served most of them to anyone else. But if signature dish means my own creation, I would have to say my Beans and Greens Soup. If signature dish just means something that I'm known for making, I would say Chocolate Pecan Bars.

Question added by Zarah: On average, how many times a week would you cook something to satisfy your sweet tooth?
Well, I have my regular weekly cookie making session, does that count? Most weeks those are the only sweets I make. Actually, I'm currently trying to clear out some of the things that have accumulated in my freezer like chocolate gingerbread and pumpkin cornmeal muffins, so I have quite a stockpile of sweets to work on!

Question added by Cathy: What do you usually eat for breakfast?
A bowl of cereal with fruit (usually banana, blueberries right now, and as soon as they're in season - peaches!) and skim milk and a glass of orange juice.

And, last but not least:Tag three people!
OK, now it's your turn!
Alice at My Adventures in the Breadbox
Nic at Bakingsheet
Rowena at Rubber Slippers in Italy

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

That Cookbook Meme

It finally found it's way here thanks to Alice, so here goes...

Total number of (cook/food) books I've owned: I really have no idea. Because of limited space, I occasionally thin out my books, so who knows how many have passed through here. At the moment there are somewhere around 115. That's what I came up with when I took a count just a little while ago, but I'm sure there are more in hiding. The bookcase pictured above holds most of my cookbooks, but I also have a small shelf in the kitchen with my current favorites and some overflow in another bookcase.

Last (cook/food) book(s) bought: That would be Sicilian Cookery by Eufemia Azzolina Pupella, a cookbook that is available in a number of different languages and which is ubiquitous in souvenir shops in Sicily. I've looked through it a couple of times, but haven't yet cooked anything from it.

Last (cook/food) book I read: I finally got around to reading Bitter Almonds by Mary Taylor Simeti & Maria Grammatico, the story of a woman who spent much of her youth in sort of a convent in Erice (her mother sent her there after her father died so that she would be assured of having enough to eat). Her time there wasn't exactly happy, but while there she learned to make the almond pastries that later became the specialty of her own bakery. The second half of the book contains all the recipes for these traditional almond pastries. It's a quick read and fascinating. I thought it was really interesting how the nuns used everything. For example, the almond shells fueled the fire and leftover or burned pastries were ground up and reborn as new confections.

Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me: I've carefully browsed through most of my cookbooks page by page at least once, and there is a smaller set of books that have one or more recipes that I use on a regular basis. But I can only think of two or maybe three books that I would say mean a lot to me. One would be Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. So many of the recipes in here appeal to me - they really are recipes for people who love vegetables as much as for vegetarians. The second one (these are in no particular order) is the obvious one - Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies. One of my very first cookbooks and still my favorite cookie book. Maida Heatter is great - I love all her books - but this is my sentimental favorite. I wouldn't say my third book "means a lot to me" quite yet, but it has gradually become my #1 basic cookbook, having replaced an early edition of The New York Times Cookbook in that role. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is the book I refer to first when I have a question about how to do something or if I'm looking for a basic recipe.

Which 5 people would you most like to see fill this out in their blog? I think this meme has had a good run, so I will let this little branch of it say good night.

New Customer Relations Gimmick at Whole Foods?

Maybe it's just the store where I shop. Maybe it's just two women at the prepared foods counter having a little fun. Maybe it's just me.

Yesterday evening I stopped in Whole Foods to get a couple of things and decided to pick up a sandwich for dinner. While I was trying to decide which one to get, I heard someone behind the counter say, "Hi, how have you been?" I almost didn't look up, because, well... she couldn't possibly be speaking to me - I don't know anyone who works at Whole Foods. But I did look up and she had a big smile on her face and was looking at me. I think I got out a weak little "fine". Anyway, I told her I hadn't decided yet and kept looking. Then it happened again. Not "Hi, how are you?"... but "Hi, how have you been?"

Very disconcerting.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Date-Nut Rocks

Page 57 in the old book / page 87 in the new book

The last (and possibly best) of the rocks. This is a plainer and simpler cookie than the other rocks - no icing and only one spice - but very, very good. These are soft cookies stuffed with dates and pecans and flavored with allspice and brown sugar.

Making these cookies is easier than either the pumpkin or banana rocks because they are not iced. I don't mind icing cookies, but when the icing has to go on the moment the cookies come out of the oven, things tend to get a little crazy in the kitchen! With these, you drop them on the sheet, bake 'em, and put them on a rack to cool. Done.

Date-Nut Rocks would be perfect for mailing - they're not at all fragile and hold up very well in storage.

Date-Nut Rocks received uniformly high scores from the cookie panel this week. Denny will be away on vacation for the next few weeks, so Terri has volunteered to fill in for him. As I did with the others when the cookie panel first convened, I asked Terri what she liked in a cookie. Here's her reply: "I really like almost any cookie imaginable. I prefer cookies with nuts and flavoring more than pure chocolate cookies. Actually, I'll try anything :)" And here's the cookie panel:

Suzanne: "This cookie is a little dry. I do love the sweet taste of the dates, even though at first glance I though they looked like the dreaded raisins. Rating - 4"

Terri: "Just the right amount of dates and pecans in this cookie. The allspice added flavor, but not too spicy. Moist, and not crumbly, make this similar to a date-nut bread. Perfect cookie with coffee or tea. Rating - 4"

Laura: "I like 'em! A yummy 'slice' of 'date bread' in a moist, delicious cookie. Rating - 4"

Phil: "In contrast to the excesses of Banana Rocks, this combination of ingredients really worked for me. This cookie looks interesting and delivers with a nice synthesis of sweet dates, crunchy pecans and a noticeable zip of allspice. Rating - 4.1"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.0

Next week - Blind Date Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Very Berry Weekend

Strawberries and cherries (sour and sweet) from the farmer's market this morning and blueberries picked from my blueberry bush. I have plans for those strawberries and sour cherries, but haven't decided on anything yet for the sweet cherries and blueberries. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Happy Birthday Cassidy!!!

My niece Cassidy is one year old today. She is the daughter of my youngest brother David and his wife Stephanie. Cassidy is a beautiful little girl and this past year has truly been a joy.

The big birthday celebration was this past Saturday and the theme was Hello Kitty! I made the cake and cupcakes using a yellow cake recipe from from Cooking Light (via Tanvi) and an icing recipe from Gail Gand which I found on the Food Network website. I baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes and each batch made 17 cupcakes. The cake was cut from a 13 by 9 inch sheet.

All 34 cupcakes were decorated by Chuck, Bob, me, and one of Cassidy's cousins. We had a regular production line going! I was ready to call it quits after just half were decorated, since guests were starting to arrive, but we pushed on (especially Chuck). We used Wilton's gum paste, which is sort of like a sugar clay. I have never used fondant before, but judging from the recipe for uncooked fondant that I saw, I think it is very similar to this gum paste.

David and Stephanie purchased a cake for purposes of the picture above. We all watched and waited for her to make a mess of it, but Cassidy didn't quite get it. David finally pushed her hand into the cake to get things going. The icing wound up all over her face, but I think she did manage to get a little taste.

Happy birthday dear Cassidy!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Banana Rocks

Page 54 in the old book / page 88 in the new book

Another "rock" this week, which means another big, soft, chunky cookie. These cookies are called Banana Rocks, but there's a whole lot more going on... raisins, dates, prunes, walnuts, lemon zest, oats, and spices. Given that roster of ingredients, I guess it's not too surprising that you can barely taste the banana.

Then again, I may have been partly to blame for the rather subdued banana flavor in these cookies. I didn't plan ahead, and so had no ripe bananas on hand. The bananas I used were perfect for eating - sweet, but still slightly firm - but probably were not ideal for baking.

The glaze on these cookies, as with the Pumpkin Rocks, is applied as soon as the cookies are removed from the oven. It dries completely and interestingly, unlike the glaze on the Pumpkin Rocks, it stays dry even after the cookies have been stored for a couple of days. This glaze is simply a buttery sweet icing, with no lemon juice or other flavorings.

I liked these cookies very much, but not as well as the Pumpkin Rocks. I had one on the day they were made and another two days later. Initially the lemon flavor stood out, but it seemed to fade a bit after a couple of days, allowing the banana flavor to come through a little more. If you like a busy cookie with lots of "stuff" in it, you'll love these.

Banana Rocks got mixed reviews from the panel...

Suzanne: "The best part of this cookie was the icing and walnuts. The cookie looked like a "Banana Rock" but was soft inside. The prunes and dates were okay, but I still picked out the raisins. Rating - 3"

Denny: "Banana Rocks Rule! Even though they're not chocolate, I'll give them my first 5! Excellent, big chunky and flavorful. Couldn't taste too much banana but that was overwhelmed by the walnuts, raisins, prunes, and dates. Rating - 5"

Laura: Laura ate a cookie, but because of a sinus infection couldn't taste it, so she decided to bow out of the judging this week.

Phil: "Just looking at this cookie makes one pause to examine it more closely and wonder what's in store. A sort of fruit cake of a cookie with no noticeable trace of banana. While I liked all the ingredients, and as usual mine was cooked to perfection, the combining of these ingredients seemed more like a recipe created by a committee. Rating - 3.2"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.7

Next week - Date-Nut Rocks

Nutrition Facts

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers - June 8th

I think summer arrived yesterday. We had a blazing hot and humid day - as is typical of DC summers - capped by a dramatic thunderstorm in the evening. Thanks to Dining with the Bloggers (and more specifically, Reid), I had the perfect summer evening treat waiting in my fridge for a quick spin in the ice cream maker.

The theme this week is "snacks" and originally I was thinking in terms of a salty snack or an appetizer, but I've already talked about those great roasted chickpeas, and I was having trouble finding an appetizer that appealed to me. I don't know why I had initially excluded sweets when thinking of possible snacks, but the fact is a goodly part of the many snacks I've eaten over the years have been sweet. And I can't count how many times I've dipped into a carton of ice cream or other frozen confection for a little relief from the summer heat!

When I came across Reid's recipe for Kumquat sorbet I recalled that I had just seen some little packs of kumquats at Whole Foods. When I saw them I had done a brief double take, thinking "hmm, those are interesting, wonder what you do with them?", but moving on pretty quickly. When I found Reid's recipe I was glad for an opportunity to try kumquats and luckily they still had some at the store.

Making the sorbet was very simple - the kumquats are cooked briefly in a sugar syrup, pureed together with the syrup, and frozen in an ice cream maker. Either lemon or orange juice is added to the mix before freezing. The sorbet is sweet, tart and delicious! It froze beautifully, too. I had some more tonight and unlike the ice cream I've made (which has always been just part cream), it is still very scoopable even after a whole day in the freezer. I think it would be great served with chocolate cake or even chocolate ice cream. I have more kumquats, so I'm planning to make some more sorbet, but next time I'll try the orange juice rather than the lemon juice. The kumquats together with the lemon juice are quite a puckery combination and I'm thinking the orange juice might moderate the tartness just a bit. Be it with lemon juice or orange juice, I'll be making this sorbet again and again. Thanks Reid for a great recipe!!

With summer here, I'm anxious to spend some time visiting the farmers' market and looking to it for inspiration. I hope to dream up a few creations of my own, too. Dining with the Bloggers will be taking a vacation until September, but it'll be back!

If you haven't already, go see what Zarah is serving up for a snack and wish her luck on her exam while you're at it. Have a great summer everyone!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Souvenirs: Trápani sea salt

This lovely little canister, purchased in Trápani but actually from Caltagirone, is filled with coarse sea salt from Trápani. The salt was sold in little plastic bags at the salt museum, tied up with a green ribbon. At first I thought I might give the bags of salt away as gifts, but after thinking about it a bit I rationalized that neither the packages nor the salt were all that attractive and I would enjoy them so much more...

I can't say as I can tell the difference (yet) between this salt, fleur de sel, kosher, or plain old iodized salt, but I do love reaching into the canister with my fingers and grabbing some to throw into a pot of boiling water for pasta or sprinkling over a salad. I love the memories it rekindles as well.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Pumpkin Rocks

Page 53 in the old book / page 86 in the new book

This is actually a cookie that I had made once before. The cookies are called rocks because of their shape rather than their texture. They are very good - sort of like a mini pumpkin muffin loaded with raisins and walnuts. They are really wonderful the day they are made - the lemon icing glistens and they still have a little crunch on the outside.

These are easy to make, but I encountered one bit of difficulty while making them. I failed to read the icing recipe ahead of time and so had not taken out some butter to soften. To make matters worse, I had forgotten that the icing is applied to the hot cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. So... I was scurrying around at the last minute, washing the mixer bowl, and trying to get the icing made in time. Initially my icing was lumpy with bits of (cold) butter. In desperation I filled the sink with hot water and stuck the bowl in there for a couple of minutes. I put the bowl back in the mixer, beat the icing a little more and voila - my icing was saved!

I really like these cookies - I have only one complaint about them. The icing becomes wet after the cookies have been in an airtight container overnight. This change doesn't affect the taste of the cookies at all, though it does affect their appearance and texture and makes them a little messy to handle.

Though the scores from the cookie panel don't reflect it, the Pumpkin Rocks were very well received by everyone in the office. Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I like pumpkin anything, so I enjoyed these cookies. I have to admit, I did take out the raisins. This cookie is soft and spicy. Rating - 4"

Denny: "Pumpkin Rocks Rock! But I do like pumpkin and nuts very much. I'd give them a 4.5 as I'm saving my 5's for chocolate and nuts. Rating - 4.5"

Laura: unfortunately there was a mix-up and Laura didn't get to try one of these. Sorry Laura!

Phil: "A suggestive looking cookie with a bubbly exterior coated in a light glaze. Moist, sweet, with a smidge too many raisins. Rating - 3.4"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.9

Next week - Banana Rocks

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Segesta, Trápani and Selinunte


Wednesday morning we got an early start - we had a jam-packed day planned and we wanted to be at Segesta when it opened so as to avoid the crowds.

Segesta - Temple

We arrived at Segesta about 15 minutes before it opened and waited along with several other cars just outside the gate. Once the gate was opened we quickly got our tickets and then literally ran up the path leading to the temple. Our hope was that we would get there before anyone else and have a couple of minutes to enjoy it and take pictures before the others arrived. We were successful and had the temple all to ourselves for what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes - it was fantastic! It is such a beautiful place - you can easily understand why the people of ancient Segesta would have chosen it for the site of their temple.

Segesta - near the amphitheatre

We spent quite a bit of time in and around the temple and then took the bus up to the amphitheatre. While the amphitheatre itself is impressive, the views from the amphitheatre were amazing. What a gorgeous backdrop for a performance!

Trápani - Salt Museum

I was intrigued by the salt flats south of Trápani, with their beautiful old windmills, from the first photo I saw in a Sicily guidebook. Windmills were once used to grind the salt and to pump water from one saltpan to another. The windmill at the Salt Museum (above) is a Dutch windmill with six wooden-framed vanes. We also saw the more utilitarian looking American windmills (with 24 iron vanes). The salt flats form a striking landscape - pools of shallow water separated by thin strips of land and dotted with the occasional windmill.

The Salt Museum has a small restaurant and originally we planned to have lunch there. However, while we were waiting for it to open, a tour bus pulled into the parking lot. We decided to drive into Trápani and get lunch there. What a lucky decision that was!

When we arrived in Trápani, we not only managed to find a parking spot, we found one right in front of the tourism office. We stopped in to pick up a map and get our bearings and Chuck also asked for a restaurant recommendation. Without any hesitation, they suggested the nearby Ai Lumi. We found our way there, but tried the door and found it locked. We then noticed a small sign, "Bussare / To Knock". So we did, and shortly we were ushered in. Ai Lumi isn't especially big and didn't strike me at first as noteworthy in any way, but our lunch there was possibly our most enjoyable meal in Sicily.

Ai Lumi Tavernetta - Pasta con il Pesto Trapanese

Bob and I both ordered salads, so a tray of local olive oils and vinegars was brought to the table. They were delicious olive oils, with what Bob aptly calls the smell of cut grass, and we not only dressed our salads with them, we hungrily dunked our bread in them. By this point we were enjoying our lunch immensely and had high expectations for the rest of our meal. We were not disappointed. Chuck had Pasta con il Pesto Trapanese and Bob and I both had Cassatelle al ragù di salsiccia. Both were wonderful. We all would love to be able to replicate the pesto on Chuck's pasta. I had just a taste, but it was incredible. What Bob and I had was like large raviolli filled (I think) with ricotta and topped with one chubby sausage link and tomato sauce - simple and delicious. Unfortunately, we were much too full to even consider dessert.

Ai Lumi Tavernetta - Cassatelle al ragù di salsiccia

After lunch we took a quick look at the cathedral and then returned to the car and drove down to Selinunte. Some of the temples at Selinunte have been reassembled, but I think the tumbled blocks, column sections and capitals made the greatest impression on me. It was as though some celestial child had taken a swipe at his toy-block masterpiece in a fit of anger or mischief (but I think it was really earthquakes). This picture gives you no sense of the size of these "blocks", but they are huge.


One of the great things about both Segesta and Selinunte is that you can climb around on the ruins, even the ones above that appear a little precarious. There's something about walking on/in and touching the remains of these temples that intensifies the experience. Plus it's just plain old fun!


Next time - Agrigento

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers - June 1st

This week's Dining with the Bloggers theme is "Healthy/Lowfat/Light". Just in time too...I just got back from two weeks in Sicily, remember?

It's easy to find all sorts of tempting recipes on food blogs, but it starts to get a little more difficult when you narrow the field to "healthy". Thankfully, amidst all the yummy baked goods, there are some great recipes for those days in between indulgences, when you're trying to eat more carefully.

This week the recipe that caught my eye was over on Molly's blog, Orangette. It's a recipe for Carrot Fennel Soup adapted from Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte. The original recipe calls for sour cream, but Molly's version omits it and I didn't miss it one bit. I love pureed vegetable soups - they're thick and filling without the fat or calories of a cream soup. This one is particularly good and perfect for spring. The pairing of carrot and fennel was new to me, and I really liked it. The soup has a wonderful light taste - slightly sweet from the carrots, a hint of anise from the fennel, and a bright note from the orange juice. It's easy to make and delicious.

Don't forget to stop by at Zarah's - I'm sure she's found something both good and good for you!