Friday, October 17, 2008

Tastes Like Home

A couple of days ago I was ecstatic to find Egg Nog in the commissary!  It is one of my favorite holiday beverages, a special treat that I look forward to enjoying throughout the fall and winter.  One of my favorite preparations is the Egg Nog Latte.  I think it is one of Starbucks' best creations ever (or maybe they didn't create it, but that is where I had it first). Last night I was craving an Egg Nog Latte. I knew coffee at 9pm wasn't a good idea if I planned on sleeping  so it was on my mind all night and called to me as soon as I woke up this morning.

Not long after waking up I pulled out my Bialetti stove-top espresso maker and brewed up some strong coffee. Meanwhile in a glass measuring cup I mixed  about 1/3 cup Egg Nog with a bit of non-fat milk (enough to make a 1/2 cup total). I put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes until it was hot (but not so hot that it burns the mouth).  Then, with my handy milk frother I increased its creamy goodness to almost 2 cups in volume. I poured a couple of ounces of espresso into a tall mug and then poured the frothy egg nog in.  A little sprinkle of freshly ground nutmeg on top and viola! it was done!  So delicious. It tasted like home at the holidays. Sigh....with a big smile on my face.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jill's Birthday

It seems like every long weekend falls in the middle of a challenging class. That means that Les & I are stuck at home while I study, study, study. Blah. Well, this past weekend wasn't any different, except that I received an invitation to go wine tasting for my friend Jill's birthday. How could I refuse? Friends? Wine? Food? I'm there! I spent Friday feverishly working on a long paper, hoping to get enough done so that I could enjoy myself on Saturday. I was successful and rewarded myself by taking all of Saturday off from school.

Saturday morning eight other girls and I loaded into two cars and set off into the foothills of Mt. Etna. We arrived at the Gambino Winery right on time for our lunch reservation. A lunch and tasting at Gambino consists of fresh bread, marinated vegies, meats and cheese, and of course, wine. We were able to taste five different varieties. All were delicious, but I definitely had my favorites.

After Lunch Jill opened her gifts as "the paparazzi" snapped pictures right and left. Outside of photography club I haven't seen so many DSLRs in such a small group! There were even a couple of girls complaining that they didn't bring theirs! I want to say that around 5 of us had DSLRs (out of 9!). Lots of talent (and nice photo equipment) in a small group.

Jill displaying her gifts

After lunch we took some time to meaner the wine shop and the winery grounds.  It is beautiful up there.  So peaceful. After buying a couple of bottles of wine (the Alicante, a rich delicious red) I took off on my own for a few minutes to snap a few pictures. 

Looking down on the town of Lingualossa

Jill, Thanks for including me in your birthday celebration!  I had a great time!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A really long but really good Saturday

Yesterday Les & I, and a group of friends met up for a day trip to Ragusa and the surrounding area.  After a bit of a late start (we were ready on time...) we hit the road toward Comiso.  In Comiso we met up with a friend, Tony, who owns an auto mechanic shop just outside of base.  He also happens to own the restaurant that Les and I went to in Scoglitti about a month ago.  Tony was excited to show off the area surrounding his home.  Our first stop was the Castello Donnafugata.

Facade of the Castello Donnafugata

Initially we had planned to tour the inside of the castle but a thunder storm earlier that morning had knocked out the power or the water or something and the inside was closed to tourists.  We did however get a tour of the beautiful gardens.

A lion guarding the steps up to the first balcony of the castle
Les and I disagree as to the look on his face.  I say its a snarl or a sneer, definitely not friendly.  He says it is a smile.  What do you think?

A view of the back of the castle

The Stone Labyrinth

We tried to find our way through the labyrith but didn't get far.  The storm that had hit earlier that morning had flooded several of the passages so we were forced to turn around.  Before we left many of us jumped on top of the walls for a better view.  The tour guide told us to.  She wouldn't go in with us, but said we could if we wanted to.  If we got lost just to climb the wall to find our way out.

See any resemblance?

Right as our group was gathering to leave for lunch at a nearby agriturismo the interior of the castle opened for visitors.  Many of our group opted to go see it but Les and I were ravenously hungry at this point and feeling cranky.  I had also had my fill for the moment of group touring.  We rested and had a snack and a glass of wine at a nearby bar and waited for the rest of the group to join us.

Finally, we left for lunch.  The agriturismo wasn't far, thankfully.  We all piled into the small homey dining room and prepared to feast.

One of the many antipasti options...YUM!

After I took that picture of the antipasti we dug in.  I didn't think much of pictures again for awhile...or rather I did but I was too busy eating.  Like all good Italian meals the food just kept coming and coming.  About halfway through I was already feeling full but there was a nice pause between courses for getting up streching legs, and letting the food settle before continuing to the next course.  I love lunches that go until dinner time!

As the lunch was winding down a resident German Shepherd poked his head in the door.  His beautiful sad eyes were just pleading for us to give him some of the leftover sausage that was on the table.

How could you not indulge that face?

He was such a good dog, never ventured farther in than you can see in the picture and just moved as people walked in and out of the door around him.

Our next stop was Ragusa Ibla.  Les and I have been there a couple of times but somehow managed to miss the coolest places on both trips.  Luckily this time we had a tour guide with us to show us all of the cool places.

Chiesa di San Giacomo
I am fascinated by the weeds growing out of the tiled roof.

The Cattedrale di San Giorgio in the distance through evening's haze

Detail on the facade of Chiesa di San Giuseppe

Cattedrale di San Giorgio

St. George on Horseback, sculpture inside the Cattedrale di San Giorgio

We finished our tour of Ragusa Ibla with refreshments at a local bar.  I was still full from lunch so I was content with some sparkling water.  As we were leaving Ragusa Ibla I tried taking a few nightime photos.  I'm still trying to figure out the best settings for low light.  This scene caught my eye.  It didn't come out quite as well as I'd hoped but you can still get the idea with the dark blue of the twilight sky and the lights shining on the leaves which were changing colors.

At the entrance to the Giardino Ibleo
1/6th sec at f/8, ISO 800

When we departed we separated from the rest of the group and headed to the mall in Ragusa.  Didn't need anything in particular but always fun to look.  We didn't buy anything but decided to grab a snack on the way out.  Our massive lunch was starting to wear off around 8:30P and we still had an hour to drive to get home. 

We decided to try a tex-mex place in the mall.  Tex-mex in Italy, an adventure for sure.  We grabbed a table, decided what we wanted (there were two menus on each table - a pizza menu and a tex-mex menu), and finally ordered.  Our beverages were brough out promptly and then we waited.  The restaurant got busier and busier.  To make a long story short we waited for over 2 hours.  About halfway through our server brought us a plate of french fries on the house because it was taking so long, at least that was my best guess.  We could tell there was some problem, maybe a bunch of miscommunications with the kitchen.  Finally, they came out and told me (nearly 2 hours after we ordered) that they didn't have what I wanted.  I picked something else.  Soon, Les order arrived.  It wasn't what we expected for a quesadilla but it was actually quite delicious.  We waited some more.  

Finally we decided to leave.  I flagged down the server and explained in my best Italian that we had to leave and we had a long drive home.  I asked how much we owed for our drinks and the bit of food we did receive.  He wouldn't take payment and was so apologetic.  My husband gave him 5 euro anyway.  In a situation like this you couldn't help but walk out with a positive feeling.  Even though they obviously had serious problems the food we did get was good and the staff was so gracious.  We will try it again.  Its not often you can walk out of a restuarant after waiting 2 hour for your food, not getting said food, and still leave with a positive feeling.

We arrived home a lot later than we expected, around 11:30P.  I was hungry (since I never got my dinner) but Les crashed out and went to bed.  I followed shortly after reheating and eating some leftovers in the fridge.  It was a long, long day, but a very good one.