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THANKSGIVING. . .SICILIAN STYLE

November 26th, 2011 1 comment

Celebrating a uniquely American holiday, like Thanksgiving, abroad is never the same as being home for the holiday.  No Thanksgiving Day Parade to watch on TV or hometown high school football rivalries to settle. In fact, no football at all—thankfully–sorry I couldn’t resist.

Thanksgiving in a foreign country requires more pre-planning that we are accustomed to in the States.  Not only don’t they have Butterball turkeys, they don’t sell turkeys in supermarkets, except for an occasional breast. Whole turkeys come from turkey farms, and the one we enjoyed was still gobbling two days before Kent said “grace” over it.

Kent and Bill, a Canadian cruiser who is married to an American, headed the effort to find our turkey and then find a place to cook it.  Galley ovens are not designed to accommodate whole turkeys.  We hoped to gather a sizeable group to share this special meal and locating a restaurant in Marina di Ragusa that would be willing to roast a whole turkey was the next challenge. 

As we walked to the seaside restaurant for dinner, we were thankful that it hadn't rained.

On the seafront promenade at Marina di Ragusa there is a lovely restaurant, Shosholoza, with a private dining room and a chef that was up to the challenge of making a traditional American Thanksgiving meal.  Bill put together a proposed menu with the help of Google translate and he and Kent negotiated all the details.  The chef asked us to provide some recipes for stuffing and selected the one with prosciutto and Italian sausage for our bird. 

The elegant dining room at Shosholoza included model ships. . .making us feel at home.

We had expected a group of about 20 and specified two birds of 7 kilos each, thinking that smaller birds would be more tender than one large bird for a group that size.  It turns out that turkeys are eaten in Sicily primarily at Christmas and the birds available now were very large or too small.  Our chef selected a 17 kilo bird (just under 40 lbs.) straight from the farm to our dining table—and it was without a doubt the most succulent turkey we have ever eaten.  The chef told us he wasn’t sure the bird would fit in his oven and his contingency plan included using a larger oven at the local church–it did fit, but just barely. 

We had never seen such a big turkey!

Our multi-course Thanksgiving extravaganza started with prosecco toasts in the restaurant bar/lounge.  

We had free access to the kitchen to see how the dinner was progressing and to admire the bird.  The only thing the chef needed some help with was the turkey gravy, but he understood “roux” and the gravy was excellent. 

Kent consults with the chef on making turkey gravy. . .

while I checked out the mashed potatoes.

After starters of pumpkin soup and ravioli with tomato sauce, Kent gave a non-denominational “grace” that included some historical references to the first Thanksgiving and then it was time to carve turkey.

The master carver checks his equipment. . .

and finally the bird arrives. . .

C
but the bird was so big it required dual carvers.

Click here for U-Tube link of turkey carving http://youtu.be/VZlDAk2s_Us

The only disappointment was the cranberry sauce—there wasn’t any.  Well, there was sauce, but it was blueberry sauce—it appears that there is no word in the Italian language for cranberry and Google translate used the next best thing which was “blueberry”. 

Roasted turkey stuffed with proscuitto & Italian sausage, with mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, carrots, green beans & roasted pumpkin.

It wasn’t a total loss, however, as the faux cranberry sauce was excellent on the ricotta pie for dessert—another Sicilian twist for the meal.  Of course, we also had apple and pumpkin pies.

Ricotta pie with blueberry sauce and whipped cream in a can. . .oh boy, oh boy.

All in all, this was a memorable Thanksgiving, made all the more so because of the wonderful friends we shared it with—our group had Americans of course, but we were outnumbered by British, Canadian, German and Irish yachties.

Our multi-national group

What is Thanksgiving without leftovers–Kent and Bill negotiated that as well.

Hot turkey sandwiches the next day.

Thanksgiving is more than turkey and stuffing.  It is a celebration of life.  .  .for which we are thankful everyday.

CHOCOBAROCCO

November 1st, 2011 No comments

The ancient town of Modica in southern Sicily was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002 because of its baroque art and architecture dating to the late 1700’s. 

St. Giorgio Cathedral dominates Modica's skyline

Modica also happens to be the chocolate capital of Sicily.  So it stands to reason that when they have a fall festival, it celebrates those two important aspects of the town’s history—hence the name “Chocobarocco” for the annual festival that takes place in late October each year and concludes on November 1st which is “All Saints Day”—an Italian national holiday.

We left Marina di Ragusa with several cruising friends on a sunny Saturday to see Modica and enjoy the festival.  This required a bus trip to Ragusa and then another to Modica, which took us through some of the southern Sicily countryside.

We were quite surprised to find that the southernmost coast of Sicily is quite flat, and predominantly rolling agricultural land.  There are thousands of acres under cultivation, and many of those covered by green houses. 

The town of Modica sits  inland at an elevation of 1,000 ft. above sea level   where the topography is hilly.  It has an upper section with steep stairs and narrow streets that crawl up the hillside and buildings that all seem to be at angles.  The lower section of the town follows the winding path of an old river bed–now a paved street called Corso Umberto I.  In 1693 there was an earthquake that destroyed much of the town and resulted in its being rebuilt both in the valley as well as on the hillside in the baroque style of that time.  The places of interest include numerous palazzos, museums and the Teatro Garibaldi where some of the festival events take place.

Baroque architecture with gargoyles. . .

tall windows and balconies. . .

and ornate arches are seen throughout Modica.

There are 29 churches in the town according the the turistica map, many of them elaborately decorated with ornate statuary.

One of many statues of saints adorning Chiesa di San Pietro

Chocoarocco takes place well after most tourists have abandoned the region and is a seasonal festival enjoyed primarily by Italians.  The timing in late fall probably takes into consideration the necessity of cooler temperatures so the chocolate doesn’t melt.

School children get history lessons along with chocolate. . .

and colorful balloons.

One of the most important baroque structures in Modica is the Cathedral of St. George (St. Giorgio in Italian) which has a tower and dome that are visible throughout the town.  Over 250 steps lead from the main street of the lower town, Corso Umberto I, to the Cathedral which looms overhead as you trudge upward.

St. Giorgio Cathedral

On this sunny Saturday, not everyone was attending the Chocolate Festival, Some were attending a wedding at the cathedral.  There is something about weddings that draws a crowd, whether you know the happy couple or not.  Perhaps its a universal fascination with the pagentry or shared joy at the prospect of a “happy ever after” ending.

The interior of St. Giorgio. . . .

awaits the bridal party. . .

while musicians tune up in the organ loft.

Finally the bride arrives. . .

and is greeted by her guests on the cathedral steps.

As we toured the church before the ceremony I saw a printed program for the wedding, and made a silent wish that “Davide and Danielle” would have their happy ending. 

First we enjoyed the architecture, and then it was time to savor the chocolate.

The most famous of all the chocolate shops in Modica is Antica Dolceris Bonajuto which first opened its doors in 1880 off a small alley on Corso Umberto.   Walking through the doors of this shop is like stepping back in time to the late 1800’s.  The shop has beautiful glass doored cases that display chocolate like it is expensive jewelry.  The wood is rich mahogany, and the lighting soft like a museum.  People seem to speak in soft voices as they make their selections from the confectionary treats displayed.

Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is just off Corso Umberto

The kitchen is visible through an open door and window, where the white coated chocolatiers do their magic using the same methods and ingredients that Aztec Indians perfected in Mexico thousands of years ago. 

The heady aroma of chocolate wafts from the kitchen.

The result is chocolate that is very rich in flavor with a slightly grainy texture from the sugar in the cocoa not being totally dissolved.  The higher the cocoa content, the more grainy the texture.  This chocolate melts on the tongue with a burst of flavor that makes milk chocolate seem bland by comparison.  The chocolate is flavored with vanilla, orange and interestingly pepper.  The chocolate with pepper has a particularly interesting sweet tanginess.

Even more amazing than the taste, and we did a lot of tasting as we worked our way down the street, stopping at tent after tent, were the amazing shapes and designs that the chocolate masters presented. 

Chocolate as far as you can see. . .

and lots of samples.

White chocolate cheese shapes were so realistic it caused a double take to confirm that we hadn’t stumbled into a cheese purveyor among the chocolate tents. 

Chocolate salami, anyone?

Chocolate salami, anyone?

There were flowers, and tools, and even designer shoes—all edible.  Making chocolate tasty is one thing, but making it into intricate shapes is an art.

Chocolate flowers seem common. . .

and truffles conventional. . .

when compared to chocolate designer shoes--at 15 euros each!

Chocobarocco, celebrates the art of chocolate and Modica’s baroque heritage.  There are concerts, tastings and chocolate sculptures for the public.  There are lectures (in Italian of course) and  trade booths for chocolatiers.  Modica exudes a festival atmosphere and chocolate scents the air.

Is there such as thing as too much chocolate?  After Chocobarocco, the answer was a resounding “yes!”  Fortunately, feeling of being overwhelmed by the taste and smell of chocolate passes quickly–I’m nibbling some dark chocolate laced with almonds right now. 

It's always time for chocolate in Modica!

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