I appreciate the majesty of the Hudson River and the cool blues of a lake in Maine but I’m a sea/ocean person.

It’s probably because I’ve spent the majority of my life living on the East and West Coasts of the United States and during the summer my family went to the Caribbean to see my grandparents. Even if I didn’t go to the ocean often, when I lived in Manhattan the beach was a summer situation only, I needed to know that it was close by.

Once I moved to Los Angeles, I had a car again. On Sundays I would load up my LL Bean tote bag with scripts for the infamous weekend read and head to El Matador Beach in Malibu. Working on Sundays wasn’t so bad with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

Sicily, Italy’s largest region, has 992 miles of coastline surrounded by the Tyrrhenian, Mediterranean, and Ionian seas.

Sunrise. Ortigia. The sea was a block away from my apartment.

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So were these rocks. Erica’s five year-old daughter asked me if I was going to jump in too. I told her I didn’t swim. She’s a great swimmer and was perplexed by my answer.

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Ortigia. Early morning swimmers.

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Siracusa. Three small trees on a cliff spotted during an early morning jog.

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Mt. Etna. View from the Monaci della Terra Nere boutique hotel on a cloudy morning.

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Salina. View of Stromboli.

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Salina. On the mountain near the village of Pollara.

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Salina. The San Lorenzo church in Malfa.

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Photos: Me and my iPhone

Sicily is known for its hand painted pottery.

Like the cuisine, each region has it’s own style.   I have to ask Erica where she bought her octopus plate.  I think it was somewhere near Cefalù.

As I have stated before, I have no more room in my apartment, so I was only able to buy a few small bowls.

I used one of the them in the photos that Gina took of the terrace project I worked on.

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The larger blue and white bowl and the little eggshell one (for salt or jam) were bought at a small workshop located right on my street.  Ceramiche Artiginali DoLù, Via Larga, 7 Ortigia  +39 0931 449451

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The other bowls were bought at a tiny store on the island of Salina.  It was located on the main street in Malfa.  The owners told me Dolce & Gabbana bought quite a few pieces from them.  You can see the influence in their S/S 2013 collection.

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Speaking of that collection, please note my fellow Americans that the black versions of these kings and queens are not the same thing as Mammy imagery from America.  Context is important when looking through our very specific American lens of a different culture, history, and country.  I was annoyed that their runaway (like most) had no diversity.

I say this as someone who gave Gladys Knight the side-eye when she became a spokeswoman for Aunt Jemina back in the day.  I didn’t care that AJ’s handkerchief was replaced with a relaxer.   I knew that context of that brand.

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Taken from the terrace of the Metropole Hotel, Taormina, Sicily.

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Photos Dolce and Gabbana:  Fashionista

Other photos. Me and my iPhone

 

 

 

I kept bumping into Erica and her parents at the market.

We do have great markets in Rome but the market in Ortigia is on another level.  I think it’s because the food doesn’t have far to travel.  The freshness and variety is unreal.

I’m still going on and on to Erica about the peaches I had.  I’m sure she’s tired of hearing about them.

I didn’t buy any fish but I did eat my share from the market.  I’m still talking about that too.

A MUST is the shop, Fratelli Burgio, located near the end of the market closest to the sea.  It gets very crowded so be patient.  I hear they have fantastic sandwiches and aperitivi.   The line for sandwiches was long and there was only one person behind the counter.  Poor guy.

I bought some Pachino sun dried tomatoes in olive oil there.  At thirty-two euros a kilo they were not cheap but were worth every single euro.

A bowl of said tomatoes.  Pachino tomatoes are grown only on the Southeastern coast of Sicily.

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The fishmongers were quite lively (and flirty).  I was too shy to snap a photo of the very attractive gentleman who called me Ms. New York.

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Baked ricotta cheese at Fratelli Burgio.

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 Photos: Me with my iPhone

 

I took a little day trip to Noto on my birthday.  After a quick thirty minute ride on the shortest train I’ve even seen, I arrived in a small town considered to be the height of Baroque urban planning.

The Duomo is a show stopper.  The old town was completely destroyed in the 1693 earthquake.   The way it’s laid out is very organized thanks to Giovanni Battista Landolina.  Working with three architects, Rosario Gagliardi, Vincenzo Sinatra, and Paolo Labisi, Landolina designed three main streets, running parallel.  At the top were the aristocracy (with the best views), the clergy in the middle, and everyone else at the bottom.

I had a great time in gorgeous Noto. Caffe Sicilia on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 125, is fantastic.  I had one of the best lemon granitas of my LIFE there.

My return to Ortigia had a classic Italian moment.  I bought a round-trip ticket.  After a long walk, downhill, to the train station I noticed everything was closed.  Ten minutes later, an announcement is made over the loud speaker in rapid-fire Italian saying my train had been canceled.  Thank God I understand Italian because at a pocket-sized station why would there have been an explanation also in English?  I went to a gym across the street to ask where the heck the bus stop was as there were no signs with that information.

There were four men at the front desk chatting and they looked like Dolce & Gabbana models but with athletic builds.  The men were very dark and handsome with those striking green/grey eyes you see all over Sicily.  My brain froze.  I literally could not speak Italian (or English really).  One dude said, “are you okay?”   I blamed the heat and they were kind enough to give me specific directions.

The street was silent, expect for my cursing, as I climbed back up the ridiculously long and steep hill, in the blazing hot Sicilian sun (there were NO cabs around). At the bus stop I was told that the bus service between these small towns is a lot more reliable than the train.  Thanks Trenitalia!

The Duomo.

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A view of the Duomo from one of the terraces of the Santa Chiara church.

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Love the detailing above the chandelier.

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I ate a delicious Pasta alla Norma and the service was great.  The reviews of this restaurant are all over the map.  Two foodie friends thought the food was overrated and others go to Noto just to eat here.

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While am I more of a Biggie person, I can appreciate this graffiti.

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Interior of the Montevergine church.

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Three bells. Shot from another terrace of the Santa Chiara church.

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Sea view.  In the distance.

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You can see and taste the Greek, Spanish, and North African influences in Sicilian cuisine.

The rich agricultural diversity of the island (the interior landscape is completely different from the coast) has also played a role in making this cuisine so unique (and delicious).

A separate post will be written about the Ortigia Farmers Market.

Some of my favorite Sicilian foods/dishes are:

Arancini – Rice balls fried with either a ragu sauce inside or eggplant (and sometimes both).

Capers – Picked by hand, these small flowers buds can be quite pricey outside of Italy.

Caponata – An eggplant dish usually served as an antipasta.  Every region of the island has their own way of making it.  I heard it takes a long time to cook.  Maybe I can convince my friend Gina to make it in Rome.

Couscous al pesce – Couscous with fish.

Fish -  It’s usually prepared simply.  No need for extravagant sauces and spices when the food is so fresh.  Anchovies, Vongole, Sea Urchins, Swordfish, Amberjack, Grouper,  Tuna, Sardines, and Sea Bream are some of the local fish you will find in Sicily.

Granita –  Nobody does it better than Sicily.  Nobody.

Pasta alla Norma – Originally from the city of Catania, this pasta dish is made with lightly fried eggplant, grated ricotta salata, and basil.  I’ve never made this dish.  I think it’s time to try it.

Pasta con Sarde – Pasta with sardines. Usually has pine nuts, fennel, and raisins.

Sicilian Bread – Yes, it is different from the bread on the mainland.  It has a golden color thanks to the durum semolina flour used from locally grown wheat.

Sfincione –  A pizza type dish.  The dough is thicker and airier.

Wine - There is a lot of excitement about Sicilian wines and their talented producers.  I usually drink Piemontese, French, (and a few Lazio ones when making Roman dishes) wines at home but I’m learning more about this region thanks to my knowledgeable friends.  I really enjoy wines from the Mt. Etna area.

I know this sounds outrageous but I’m not a big cannoli fan.  Meanwhile my partner on this series, Erica, was on a mission to try every single cannolo and cassatina in the neighborhood.

 

Pasta alla Norma.  So good.

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Little cassata cakes.  AKA cassatiini.

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I never had a Rosé from Mt. Etna before.   The waitress at Clandestino recommended it.  It was very good.

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Pasta with swordfish, vongole, and cherry tomatoes.

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Sigh.

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A white wine from Agrigento.  The owner of a little shop on Via Savoia (n. 2) recommended it after I told him I was invited to a lunch featuring risotto with shrimp.  It was a big hit.  I went back to buy another bottle.  I hope there’s a shop in Rome that sells it.

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One of my favorite things about late spring and summer is drinking homemade iced tea with lemon granita (tè fatto in casa con limone granita).  It’s like an Italian Arnold Palmer.

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Photos: Me and my iPhone

 Of course now I’m starving.  What are some of your favorites?

During my trip to Ortigia, I saw many beautiful things and ate many dishes that were so delicious I wanted to Tweet/IG/FB about them immediately.

However, one of my goals during my vacation was to slow down.  I wanted to focus on what I was seeing, doing, eating at that moment.  I did occasionally post a picture on social media but cut way back.

My friend, Erica, is also a Sicily fan and we decided to highlight a few things we love about this incredible island for seven days.  You can following Erica on Instagram HERE.

First up is the Duomo.

I arrived in Ortigia during the early afternoon. After unpacking, and picking up some essential groceries, I walked over to the Duomo.

I was not ready.

Many friends have described the Duomo and its piazza as one of their favorites in all of Italy. Yet, I was still floored by her beauty, color, and presence.   It is truly one of the most magnificent buildings I have ever seen.

As with other regions of Italy, the layers of history in Sicily run deep.   Siracusa was one of greatest and important cities in the Greek empire. This dramatic cathedral was built in and around a 5th Century BC Doric Temple to Athena.   Doric columns are visible inside and outside the church.

In the 800s it was converted into a mosque by the Arabs who conquered Sicily.  Then the Byzantines returned to power, only to be defeated by the Arabs again.  They ruled until the Normans defeated them in 1085.

The Baroque facade was added after the devastating earthquake of 1693.  Somehow this very ornate style sits in perfect harmony with the Greek lines and aesthetics of the earlier structure.

I made it a point to see this building every single day.

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Photos: Me with my iPhone

This piazza is a perfect place to relax as the sun goes down and the locals start their passeggiata.

 

While my family and friends in the States are enjoying the last sunrays of Summer 2014 this Labor Day, it’s Il Rientro here in Italy.

This time I am ready!

As I wrote earlier this summer, even after all the years I’ve lived here, I was still resistant to the European way of vacationing. I felt guilty and unproductive.

Well, I am happy to report that major progress has been made regarding my efforts to partake in the great Italian tradition of Dolce Far Niente.  I’m not completely out of the workaholic woods yet but these things take time.

I went to Siracusa, Sicily for my birthday, staying in the historic center called Ortigia.  The first two days the Internet in my apartment was down, which was a blessing in disguise.  I couldn’t obsessively check my emails or read news headlines.

When I arrived in Oritiga, I was a one big ball of stress.  By the end of the week, I was so calm not even the chaos at the Catania airport and my delayed flight could wind me up.

This calmness was short-lived as it ended by my first evening back in Rome but that’s a different story.

It was my first trip to this area of Sicily and just what the doctor ordered.  I didn’t realize how badly I needed a vacation until I had one. Yes, it was a short one but I still appreciated it.

The architecture, design, history, and culture were inspiring.  The food was on another level.  My friend and her family just happened to be staying at an apartment around the corner.

I will write more about my Sicilian adventures once I sort through all my photos.

It took a few days into my trip for my major breakthrough.  One morning I ditched my itinerary.  I kept my plan to jog along the seawall at sunrise, and then hit the farmers’ market after.  That was it.   I’ll be honest. At first it was an odd sensation to not know exactly what I was going to do the rest of the day.

When Erica called and invited me to lunch with her family at their place I said, “yes” instead of my usual freak out about impromptu plans.

It was a glorious day of having a delicious lunch with my friends on their terrace (which had this view),

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going to the “beach” (which was two block away),

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reading my books and magazines while drinking a lot of homemade Tè Freddo con Limone Granita,

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and enjoying the sweetness of doing nothing.

I went on to enjoy this sweetness several times during the rest of my trip.  I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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