Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Poor Tired Shredder

I should be in Acireale at Carnivale right now. Unfortunately it didn't work out tonight. Les came home feeling a bit under the weather, and with a gig coming up this weekend he really doesn't want to get sick. I don't blame him. A late night out wouldn't have been the healthiest option.

I spent a good deal of time last night and this morning shredding paper to use as confetti so I wouldn't have to spend a ton of euro buying it like I did last year. My poor shredder is not making happy noises. Maybe I shouldn't have shredded so many magazines... Hopefully we'll still get out for Carnivale this year and my shredder's sacrifice won't be in vain. Maybe this weekend? It goes through February 5 (I think) so I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Oh, and for those of you who were wondering what my hubbie had up his sleeve for Tuesday night it was a masked ball at the Catania opera house. We weren't able to make it, but hey, at least my husband wants to take me to a masked ball! Next time :)

Monday, January 28, 2008


The last couple of weeks have been crazy. I'm taking a class called Managerial Decision Making. I had no idea when I started the class that it was all about statistics...a subject that I haven't touched since undergrad. It has been more of a challenge than my other MBA classes. I'm only halfway through! The next three weeks will be tough.

Les has also been really busy with his band. They have taken to practicing in my dining room, which most of the time I don't mind. But they have a gig this weekend...and that means they will be here a lot this week. Last night...tonight...and Friday. Usually I make dinner for them but I got off the hook tonight because the drummer's wife offered to take care of dinner. I am so glad! I had no idea what to make. I wasn't planning on doing that much cooking this week.

Once I found out that I wasn't responsible for dinner I felt inspired to bake (even though I really should have been studying). I found a few recipes last week that I've been wanting to try. Today I decided to try Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins. They were soooooo good! Very hearty. I was actually pretty full after eating just one. I used my last two blood oranges that I bought at the local market on Friday.

Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins
From Pinch My Salt
  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup flax seed meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 eggs - lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange zest
  • 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper baking cups. Zest and juice 2 or 3 medium oranges, measure out juice and zest; set aside. Chop and measure walnuts; set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, flax seed meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Using a wire whisk, blend ingredients together very well. This is your dry mixture. Set it aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine beaten eggs, buttermilk, orange juice and zest, oil, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk together well. This is your wet mixture.
  4. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon just until all the flour has been incorporated. Make sure to scrape up all the flour from the bottom of the bowl as you are mixing. Once you no longer see any pockets of flour remaining, gently fold in the walnuts.
  5. Using a large spoon or an ice cream scoop, fill each muffin cup almost to the top. Divide any remaining batter between the cups so that they are somewhat equal. Put the muffins in a preheated 375 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes. Check to see if they are done by inserting a toothpick into the center of a muffin. If the toothpick comes out clean, they are done. If not, let the muffins bake an additional 2 minutes and check again. When muffins are done, let cool on a wire rack for five minutes then remove muffins from pan and let cool completely on the wire rack.
Now that I have breakfast taken care of for the next few days I best be getting back to my statistics book...ugh.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Trying to Tame the Grocery Budget

Without burdening you with the numbers I'll suffice to say that our grocery bill has significantly increased since we moved overseas.

One reason is that we buy our food at the commissary. They carry mostly American brands that have been shipped over from the States so, once the cost of getting them here is added in they are a bit more pricey than they would be back home.

Now, you may be asking yourself why I drive all the way to the commissary to buy such expensive food? Its not that the American brands are so much better, it is that buying there is still cheaper than buying food out in town. Why? The exchange rate. Every euro we spend costs us about $1.50, so things that are really reasonably priced for the locals are expensive for us because we are paid in dollars, not euros.

The final reason my budget is stretched to the limit is that the commissary doesn't always sell the best quality products. Packged dry goods are fine, but their produce leaves much to be desired. Sometimes I find good stuff there but often if it isn't already going bad in the store it will go bad soon after I bring it home. This is one of the main reasons I've taken to shopping at the local outdoor market, hence I pay for most of my fresh produce in euro.

Lately I've been trying to find ways to tame my budget. I've been trying to utilize leftovers more. I'm not a huge leftover fan, but as long as I use them within a day or two they are fine. I get really picky after day two. The downside is that I rarely want the same thing for dinner two nights in a row. Oh well. This is the downside to trying to save money, right?

So, in addition to making sure I don't let things go bad in my fridge before we consume them I've also been experimenting with less expensive ingredients. Meat is very expensive here. A pack of two (albeit, large) chicken breasts go for around $6-7! Beef is even more expensive unless we stick with ground beef..but really, how many meatloaves can I make? I enjoy meatloaf once in a while, but certainly not once a week, let alone more often than that! I just can't think of many recipes for using ground beef. I put it in spaghetti sauce, which is great, but beyond that I'm often stumped.

Anyway, I've been trying to incorporate more non-meat protein into our diets. Specifically I've recently been very fond of beans and rice. With some fresh vegies and some spices, served with fresh bread or a tortilla, beans and rice make a fantastic and flavorful meal.

A few days ago, as I was blog-surfing I found an interesting post on Orangette, a blog that I often read. She shared a recipe for quick and easy black beans. I decided to give her recipe a try today for lunch and served the beans with a bit of bread that I bought at the market yesterday (I think it was a ciabatta). It was a delicious meal!

Quick Black Beans with Cumin and Oregano
Serves 2
From Orangette Blog
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. hot sauce - to taste
  • 1 small clove garlic - pressed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
  • ¼ tsp. salt - or to taste
  1. Pour a glug of olive oil into a medium saucepan, and warm it over medium heat. Add the onion, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and pale golden. It should be just starting to caramelize; it might scorch a bit in areas too, and that’s just fine.
  2. Add the ground cumin and oregano, and stir well. Add the hot sauce, and stir well again. Add the garlic, followed by the beans and their can juices.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the beans are soft and warmed through. (Some brands of beans are softer than others; some will be ready as soon as they’re warm, but some need more time.) Taste, and salt as needed.
  4. Note: This recipe doubles easily. There’s no need to double the onion, though; one is plenty for two cans of beans.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as Les and I did. It took me a whole maybe 15 minutes from start to finish.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Something Up His Sleeve

Sometime yesterday afternoon cabin fever started to set in. As I was contemplating taking a nap from boredom my husband suggested we take a drive down to Ragusa and go shopping. Money is tight right now so that didn't sound very fun to me. Window shopping just isn't that fun if I can't buy a little something now and then. He mentioned that there was some thing that he wanted to buy for me and that I wanted to go shopping. I decided the potential of a present from my hubbie was worth getting my butt in gear for.

When we arrived in Ragusa (about an hour away from our home) Les announced that he was in charge of the shopping trip and that I couldn't buy anything for myself until he found what he was looking for. My curious mind was feverishly trying to figure out what he was looking for. We meandered in and out of various clothing stores, not really stopping. There wasn't a pattern to the shops he would go into. They were all clothing stores, but he would go into some and pass by others and I wasn't sure why. After about an hour of this I was starting to get a bit frustrated. I wasn't given much of an option to stop and look at things that interested me. I was just following him around.

He didn't find what he was looking for at the first mall so we moved on to the second mall. I was really perplexed at this point. We made it through the majority of the second mall and then as we were meandering around a store he pulled out a dress and said I needed to try it on. It was a tea-length black silk dress. Pretty. So - then I was really curious! Why was he looking to buy me a dress? And a nice one at that?

I tried on the dress, but it didn't quite work out. One size was a bit snug - he liked it but I felt a bit too self conscious. The size up was definitely more comfortable, but he wasn't thrilled with the bagginess. It wasn't the most flattering. We moved on. In the next store we hit the jackpot! I tried on five or so different dresses and LOVED two of them. He bought them both for me! Both are black and hang to just below my knees. One is an empire waist, flowy chiffon and the other is a taffeta with box pleats and little bit of toole as a petticoat and a cute belted waist.

He gave me a date for next week and told me not to plan anything. He let me know that his plans were still pending, but hopefully I'll have a reason to wear one of my new dresses!

Now playing: Sara Bareilles - Many the Miles
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, January 20, 2008

San Luis Obispo Art Center

For the past couple of months my mom has been encouraging me to join the San Luis Obispo Art Center. A few weeks ago I finally downloaded the application and sent in my check. Yesterday, while she was in the gallery checking on some of her own pieces, she checked to see if I was in the computer. I am officially a member!

The main reason I decided to join the Art Center was to have a venue to sell my artwork. Several months ago I sent 36 of my original art photo note cards to my mom to have them placed in a store where she was selling her work. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, we decided to pull our artwork from the store. (The store owner had a fondness for unprofessional drama). Ever since, my cards have been sitting in my parent's house collecting dust. The Art Center takes a steep cut of the profits in their gallery, but hopefully some my cards will sell. I'd love to have an excuse to make more!

My second reason for joining the Art Center is that San Luis Obispo, CA is my hometown and hopefully I will live there again someday. I'm happy to support the local art community and promote my work at the same time.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sicilian Gold

My weekly dose of Sicilian culture comes in the form of the weekly market in a nearby town. Even though I live in little America (aka military housing) I try to embrace the local way of life in the snippets that are available to me.

As the seasons change so do the fruits and vegetables available at the market. Right now it is orange season, and specifically blood oranges! I've been buying a kilo or two every week for the past few weeks. This week I had a few left over from last week and decided to juice them to free up room in my fruit bowl for the fresh ones I bought this morning. Nothing beats fresh squeezed orange juice! It is my Sicilian gold.

Now playing: Sara Bareilles - Many the Miles
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why I Love Wine

As I was perusing the blogosphere this evening I came across an interesting post: We Are Transmitters on a blog entitled On the Wine Trail in Italy. The author made a comment that sums up why I love wine: " the gift we have been given to gather and tell stories and open bottles and eat and drink and laugh and love".

Some of my most cherished memories involve food, wine, friends, family, and laughter. Beer and liquor seem to bring out the obnoxious and vulgar in people. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a mixed drink now and then, and I even sometimes drink a beer or two, but nothing brings out the love and laughter in a group of family or friends like a good bottle of wine.

Now playing: Diana Krall - Let's Fall In Love
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Photographers' Rights

Today I was flipping through Shutterbug Magazine and came across an article that my readers might find useful. It is entitled "Photography In The Real World" (Shutterbug November 2007) and talks about two U.S. cities that are considering laws against photography on city property, including public sidewalks!

The Shutterbug article gives the link to an article written by Attorney Bert P. Krages II entitled "The Photographer's Right" which talks about photographers' rights, places that are generally acceptable to photograph, and what to do if someone harasses you about your photography. You can download a PDF of the article on his website.

If you like taking pictures these articles are worth reading. I'd also recommend keeping a copy of Bert Krages' article in your camera bag in case a self-important rent-a-cop harasses you about taking pictures in a "restricted area" (like a sidewalk).

Monday, January 07, 2008

Overnight Escape to Sciacca

This weekend Les and I decided we needed a quick getaway before life really returns to normal. His holiday work schedule ends this week and I start another MBA class tomorrow. We decided to cover some new ground west of Agrigento. We left around 1pm on Sunday and headed west.

Agrigento's Valle Dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) is one of my favorite places in Sicily. The Doric temples overlooking the Mediterranean coast are spectacular. We pulled off the road to snap a few pictures. I brought my tripod and telephoto and put them to good use.

Tempio di Hera (Temple of Hera)

Tempio della Concordia (Temple of Concord)

Tempio di Hera (Temple of Hera)

After enjoying the view of the temples we continued west towards Eraclea Minoa. We had hoped to visit an archaeological sight containing the ruins of a theater, but even though we were there within the hours listed in our Lonely Planet book, it was closed.

We headed down to the Eraclea Minoa's beach town to look around. For the most part it was a ghost town. I'm guessing it is a lively place during the summer but most homes were locked up and gardens overgrown. As we were glancing down side streets we noticed quite a few cars at Lido Garibaldi. We decided to check it out and found a great beach! The cars belonged to the handful of locals (who live there year-round) enjoying the bar and the view. We grabbed a coffee and then headed outside to enjoy the sea.

Sunset on Lido Garibaldi and the Mediterranean Sea

Lido Garibaldi

I could have stayed an enjoyed the peaceful sound of the waves at Lido Garibaldi for hours, but since the sun was dipping low in the sky we decided to continue on to Sciacca - our destination for the evening.

As we made our way into Sciacca we started looking for the hotels listed in our Lonely Planet book. The first one, the least expensive, looked either very run down or closed so we moved on without stopping. The second option led us out of town and into the countryside. After a few wrong turns (and disagreements with the Garmin) we found Villa Palocla, a charming country hotel and ristorante. As we approached the entrance we weren't sure if they would be open. It was very quiet. Lucky for us we caught the receptionist just before she was about to lock up and secured a room for the evening.

As Les was taking our backpacks upstairs I poked my head into the office and asked where the ristorante was. Unfortunately, being low season, the ristorante was closed. The receptionist gave us a brochure for the city and said there were many places to eat in town. I had been looking forward to relaxing for the evening and being within walking distance of dinner, but we were in for more exploration.

After a short rest we made our way into the centro of Sciacca. I guess the rest of the town also thought that spending the evening in the centro was a grand idea and it took us almost an hour to find a place to park. By then we had definitely worked up an appetite.

As we walked through the centro we saw many shops and bars but no restaurants. Finally we saw a sign pointing down an alley for an Osteria and decided to check it out. We were peeking in the door and were noticed by one of the owners. In our stumbling Italian we asked to see a menu. Their specialty was fish, and being that is not Les' favorite we decided to move on.

As we turned to leave the gentleman asked us what we were looking for and we explained that Les doesn't like fish. He asked if he liked meat, sausage, etc. and offered to put a plate together for him. He wanted our business so bad and was so happy to accommodate us we decided to stay. I'm so glad we did!

I enjoyed a salad and a fillet of swordfish and Les had meatballs, sausage and potatoes, all covered with a delicious tomato sauce. Both meals were excellent but I think I liked Les' a bit better - the tomato sauce was outstanding. After dinner we decided to stick around for dessert. We asked for dolce and were brought fresh pastries (still hot) that were filled with sweet ricotta cheese and fried, then sprinkled with powdered sugar, absolutely delicious!!!

If you are ever in Sciacca we highly recommend Angelo's and Guiseppe's (brothers) hospitality at the Osteria Cappellino on Vicolo Cappellino, 24.

Happy and full we found our way back to the car and returned to the hotel for a good night of sleep.

We set the alarm this morning for 7am (not something I usually like to do on vacation) and decided to try and be on our way by 9am. Around 8am we went downstairs for breakfast and, once we found where it was served, were in awe. Even though we were the only guests that morning they had laid out fresh cornetti (croissants, still warm), fresh fruit (some off of the trees outside), fresh squeezed orange juice, and yogurt. On top of all that they also prepared cappuccinos for us when we came downstairs! Everything was delicious!

Full and happy we paid our bill and headed back into Sciacca. I wanted to explore the town in the daylight and hopefully get a few good pictures.

Our room's view from Villa Palocla

Looking the other way out of our room at Villa Palocla

Our room's beautifully painted ceiling

Chiesa del Carmine, Sciacca

Interior of Chiesa di San Domenico, Sciacca

Les was starting to get bored of going in and out of churches so after our 1 hour parking was up we moved on. We intended to go to Castello Incantato, but the Lonely Planet book didn't give directions to it (after an interesting write-up) and we didn't see any signs. Oh well, the next destination was Caltabellotta, a city high on a hill with ruins of a Norman Castle at the top.

As we wound our way through country roads the elevation increased as did the fog and mist. By the time we reached the parking area for the castle we couldn't see much of anything. We really weren't even sure where the castle was.

We started walking and found a park with open gates. We looked up at the rocks and thought maybe those were our ruins, so we started walking up steep, moss covered, wet steps.

Remains of the Castle - about 1/2 way up our climb

We finally made it to the top, huffing and puffing. I can blame the altitude, right? I'm glad I went all the way to the top but there wasn't much to see with all of the fog. We could hear voices, car horns, etc so we knew that civilization wasn't far but we couldn't see anything through the fog.

The walk down was a bit easier but still treacherous because of the mossy, wet, stone steps.

Can you find Les? That is how foggy it was.

A bench in the mist

We made our way out of the fog and down the hill toward Eraclea Minoa. We had planned to have lunch there but unfortunately the restaurant was closed. At that point we were starving and quickly made our way to the next town in hopes of finding food. We stumbled into a trattoria and enjoyed spaghetti carbonara and some bread.

After lunch the clock was showing signs of approaching mid-afternoon. Time to head towards home. On our way home we had some bad luck with an Esso station.

WARNING: Gas coupons aren't good at EVERY Esso station! Apparently, the Esso's in the Agrigento province are owned by another company and they won't accept gas coupons. We found this out AFTER putting 50L of fuel in our car and even after Les had a long debate with them we ended up putting €68 of fuel on our credit card. OUCH! (For those of you back in the states that comes out to just over $100 for not even a full tank of gas).

Overall we had a great trip, despite the Esso problem. Sciacca and the surrounding coastline is beautiful and I'd love to go back again.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Date Night Classic - Dinner and a Movie

Last night Les and I got out of the house for a bit to spend some time together. We drove to base and saw National Treasure: Book of Secrets at the base theater. I really liked it! If you liked the first one you'll probably like the second one too.

After the movie we drove into Catania for dinner. Restaurants in Italy open late (usually around 8pm) so it worked for us to see the movie before dinner. We used our Garmin Nuvi 270 (a Christmas present from my parents, THANK YOU!) to help us find a Persian restaurant that we had seen advertised. I don't think we could have found it without the GPS (or found our way home for that matter).

Perla D'oriente was a great find! The food was delicious and the atmosphere was great. We were seated in the back at a short table on a platform covered with rugs and pillows. It was a fun and cozy way to dine. We enjoyed Persian tea and flat bread while we waited for our main courses. Les had lamb and saffron rice and I had grilled chicken (marinated in a lemony sauce) and saffron rice. Both plates of rice were sprinkled with tart dried red berries. Les' lamb wasn't quite what he was expecting, but my chicken was delicious! We both loved the saffron rice.

When we finished our meals Les asked the waitress about dessert. She described their sweets to us in her best English and we selected two. She offered to bring us samples of the others and we graciously accepted! Who turns down extra dessert? They were all very yummy, some of the flavors more exotic than others.

We had a great night out! It was so nice to find something other than Italian food! Now that we have a GPS it'll be a lot easier to find some new places. I'm really looking forward to exploring a bit more!

Now playing: Sara Bareilles - Fairytale
via FoxyTunes