Archive | April, 2013

visiting Casa delle Farfalle {the Butterfly House}

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My grandparents left on Friday morning and I strongly dislike the day after friends or relatives leave.   The house is quieter, the children are needier, the dishes are dirtier (and more plentiful).  You know what I mean?

To avoid sitting around an “empty” house all day with my two kiddos, I joined my friends Becca and Bethany on a trip to the Casa delle Farfalle.  With two minivans, three moms, seven kids, and 10 packed lunches… we were ready to discover somewhere new in Sicily!

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The Casa delle Farfalle is located in the Parco Monteserra.  Right outside the butterfly house is a great play area that the kids loved.

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Inside are a couple of rooms with educational displays, including two whole rooms dedicated to an explanation of the Silk Road.  The children were fascinated with the live silk worms and their beautiful cocoons.

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Finally we went into the room to see the butterflies themselves.  I have to say, I was amazed.  There were sooo many butterflies and they were in such a lovely setting.  Many things helped us to feel like we were in the butterflies’ natural habitat, such as a little stream full of goldfish, birds chirping and nesting just a few feet away from visitors, and beautifully maintained flowers and plants.

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^^^ A butterfly boldly landing on you is magical every time.

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^^^ Lena was fascinated by the fish.  Can you spot her on the bridge?   Thankfully she never fell in!

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^^^ Lena and Daniel were fascinated by this little monarch butterfly drinking sugar water… right at their height!

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^^^ An Italian visitor gently coaxes a butterfly step onto Elise’s fingers.

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^^^ And there’s the whole loveable, motley crew.

If you’d like to visit, the park is located just outside the town of Viagrande.  That makes it an easy 30-minute drive from Catania (or, if you’re military and coming from base, about 30 minutes from NAS 1).  Directions are included on the website here; the GPS coordinates are 37.616088 and 15.090467.  Admission is 5 euro for everyone over 5 years old (which made this an inexpensive excursion for our group!).

Parco Monteserra — where the Casa delle Farfalle is located — has a lot to explore in addition to the butterfly house.  We enjoyed the playground with young kids, and for older children or families there are hiking trails leading to a lake and a volcanic crater.  Surrounding the play area are dozens of covered picnic benches; there is even a BBQ pit if you’d like to grill your lunch.  I’m going to take my whole family back soon!

9 :: in animals, friends, Sicily, travel

the great-grandparents come to visit!

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We were so excited to have my grandparents (my mom’s parents) visit us for a few days this week.   They had just finished an amazing tour of Sicily with Grand Circle Travel and so — without the pressure of “seeing Italy” — we could all sit back and savor the moments together.  I absolutely love my grandparents and treasure any time I’m able to spend with them.  Some of my happiest childhood memories come from hot summers spent in their beautiful home in St. Louis, helping my grandmother bake cookies or watching my grandfather in his woodworking shop in their basement.  It was a huge honor to host them in my own home, to cook food for them in my own kitchen, to welcome them into everyday life with my own family.

Here are a few sweet moments from their visit.  Above on the left, Gil and his GG (great-grandmother) enjoy lunch on base.   Above on the right, Lena pages through a beautiful wooden bookthat her great-grandparents brought her.  Thank you, GG and Great-Grampie!

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Above left: Gil and GG chit-chatting at the hospital on base.  We spent 5 hours there one morning due to my poor grandfather not feeling well for most of his visit!  Thanks to excellent care at the hospital on base, though, he has a clean bill of health to head back to the States today.  Above right: I can only hope to be as hip as my grandmother when I am 79.

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Scenes from one early morning: Gil yawning (after only being up for an hour… typical) and Lena and Grammie enjoying a tea party.

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Today we took a walk through our town, showing Grammie/GG our favorite spots.

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One of our favorite places in town is definitely La Biscotteria Siciliana, where Grammie enjoyed her last chocolate gelato before leaving Italy.

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Lena and I, meanwhile, celebrated the coming of warmer weather with cups of granite, or Italian ice.  Lena had pistachio, I had almond and strawberry, and Gil just looked on with all the wisdom of a newly-minted 3-month-old.  (Happy 3-month “birthday” today, Gil!)

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Above left: My two munchkins staying busy while everyone else watches black smoke puffing out of Mt Etna through the kitchen window.  Above right: Post nap time snuggles with my loves. becca-garber-playtime-pizzeria

Above left: Afternoon playtime.  Above right: Dinner tonight at Donna Fortunata.  Love you, Grampie!

These pictures just make my heart melt.  What an incredible gift to have my grandparents visit us overseas!  I know I’ll treasure these memories for myself and for my children the rest of my life.

Are your grandparents still living?  What did you do together the last time you saw them?

17 :: in family, Instagram, life lately, Sicily, visitors

a Sicilian tradition :: Caponata recipe

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Last week some friends and I got together for another cooking class.  This time we learned three classic Italian dishes, and I’ll be sharing step-by-step instructions and recipes over the next few days.  The first recipe is for caponata, also called “eggplant relish,” which is a very traditional Sicilian dish.  The combination of eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, celery, nuts, and vinegar make a tangy, flavorful side dish that my American friends rave about.

Here’s the how-to guide with the complete recipe at the end of the post!

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First, cut your eggplant into 2-inch cubes.  Cover with Kosher salt to draw out the bitter taste and let stand while you prepare and fry the peppers.

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Cut your peppers in half, remove the seeds and stalk, and then cut them in half again.  Chop the quartered pepper into bite-size pieces.  Fry the pieces in vegetable oil in batches, removing them when a fork will slide into them without resistance.  Remove from pan and put them on a bowl or plate lined with a paper towel.

Return to your eggplant.  Rinse, drain, and dry the eggplant before frying it in small batches until lightly browned.  Remove from pan and put them on a plate lined with a paper towel.  (You can see more explanation about frying eggplant in this post.)

Now make the sugo, or sauce.

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To make the “sugo di caponata,” first fry a chopped onion and celery together for 5 minutes.  Then add a 1/2 can of green olives.

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Add 1 cup of tomato sauce OR fresh tomatoes and a spoon of tomato paste.  Sautee together with a teaspoon of salt.

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After the mixture begins to boil, add in peppers, eggplant, sugar, and apple cider vinegar.  Cook until dissolved and continue to stir for two more minutes.

Finally, add capers, raisins, or pine nuts if desired.  Top with fresh basil.  Buon appetito!

 

Caponata Recipe

Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 medium-sized eggplants
  • 2 large red peppers
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 3 large stalks of celery chopped into large 1-inch pieces
  • ½ jar green olives without pimentos
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • 1/3 C apple cider vinegar
  • 1 C of salsa di pomodoro, passata OR fresh tomatoes with 1 spoon of tomato paste
  • Optional additions: capers, raisins, or pine nuts
  • Fresh basil leaves

Directions

  • Chop eggplants in large (2 inch) chunks.  Place in colander and sprinkle with salt to sit for 30 min-1 hour.
  • Deseed peppers, chop into large (2 inch) chunks.  Fry batches in vegetable oil with salt in deep pan until partially done and a fork slides into them easily.  Put in a bowl with paper towels to drain.
  • Rinse, drain, and dry eggplant before frying in batches in vegetable oil.  Sprinkle with salt while frying.  Fry until light brown and partially done.  Put in a bowl with paper towels to drain.
  • Sugo for Caponata:  Heat up oil in large non-stick pan.  Add diced onion and chopped celery and cook until fried (5 minutes).  (Add more oil if it is dry.)  Add ½ jar whole green olives without pimentos to mix.  Continue to cook until browned.  Add about 1 cup of salsa di pomodoro, passata, or fresh tomatoes and a spoon of tomato paste.  Sautee together stirring constantly.  Add about 1 tsp of salt.
  • Add peppers and eggplant. Stir all together over high heat.
  • Add two tablespoons of sugar and 1/3 C of apple cider vinegar and mix together until dissolved.  Add to pan and stir.  Cook for two more minutes while stirring.  Salt to taste.
  • Add optional ingredients and fresh basil if desired.
9 :: in eat this, Italy, Sicily

walking in Sicily in the springtime

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Last Wednesday was such a perfect, blue-sky day!  Lena, Gil, and I took our usual weekly walk to buy fruits and vegetables, and along the way I took some pictures of our town in the spring.  Don’t you just want to bury your nose in those beautiful wisteria blossoms?

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Above, a mural of our town showing a festival below the cliff.  On the right, Lena pokes through her snacks for the good stuff while I do my shopping.

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^^^ Already I can’t walk anywhere without a big bottle of water to keep me hydrated.

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On the left, I picked some wisteria blossoms and hung them up at home as “spring mistletoe.”  On the right,  I bought these fish in town and then realized they weren’t gutted!

Funny story about those fish, actually.   I saw the fishmonger’s truck and spontaneously decided we’d have fish for dinner.  The fishmonger saw me waiting with my children and broke into a huge smile of recognition, saying to the five men waiting around me that the signora would go first.  After some discussion, I made my selection and was about to pay for them when I realized I was out of cash!  Embarrassing.  He told me not to worry, he’d set them aside for me.  Around the corner to the bank I went, hurrying as quickly as I could when I have a two-year-old who loves to press the ATM buttons for me.

When I came back around the corner… the fish truck was gone!  Dismayed, I asked a man in the piazza when the fishmonger would be back.

“He went down that way,” the man said.  “He’ll be back in 10 minutes.”

“Ten?” I asked.  “Or twenty?”

*shrug*

I sighed, deciding I couldn’t make two babies wait in the piazza for 10 minutes.  I turned my stroller towards home.  Suddenly I heard someone calling, “Signora!  Signora!”  I turned around and saw an elderly man who had been another customer at the truck… and he was holding my bag of fish!

“He gave the fish to me,” the gentleman explained.  “Here you go.”

I handed him the money to give back to the fishmonger, thanking him over and over.  What a kind, trusting gesture!  I was so touched.

It’s moments like this that I feel most at home in this little Sicilian town of ours: when people take care of me just because they want to.  They know I’m American, they know I’m probably here with the military, they know I’ll come and go just like whole generations of military families before me.  And yet my impermanence does not stop their warmth and generosity to me.  When they admire my children, wave at me in cheerful recognition even though we’ve never spoken, nod politely as I move through the piazza, call “arrivederci!” every time I drive by, pile oranges from their groves into shopping bags and tell me to come back for more, slip fresh eggs from their chickens to my daughter, memorize my order at the store… I actually feel at home in Italy.

14 :: in home sweet home, life lately, military life, Sicily

first gelato of the summer!

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“We haven’t gone to get gelato yet,” Elliott said randomly over dinner the other night.  “The gelateria has been open for the season for a few weeks now.”

My ears perked right up.  He was talking about gelato?  In our house, I am definitely the sweets person.  This was wonderful!

“Would you like to walk there after dinner?”

“Ummm… sure!”

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The gelateria in our town is just a 10-minute walk from our house.  This, in my experience, is just the right distance to digest your dinner, take in the town, and prepare your taste buds for the deliciousness ahead.  The owner and his wife know us after our frequent daily trips there with our many visitors last summer.  If you’ll pardon my pun, life just seems sweeter in this cold world when you’re friends with the owner of a gelateria.

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^^^ Pistachio and chocolate, my old standard.

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This last photo is from Instagram, so the quality isn’t the best, but it was too good not to share.  At first Lena was distraught that she didn’t get her own cone, but when she saw how liberally we shared with her, she changed her strategy.  The child ate more gelato than dinner that night!

Do you have a favorite ice cream store — or, if you’re lucky, a gelato shop — in your town?  What’s your favorite flavor?  Once I’ve gotten my fill of pistachio and chocolate, I like to move on to pure Nutella gelato… it’s life changing.

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15 :: in eat this, family, Italy

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