A Traveller’s Thoughts

 

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When we are born our minds are a blank canvas. The more we experience, the more colour we add to that canvas. At the end of our days, we hopefully leave with a masterpiece of hues and values that have helped shape our character along the journey.

A solitary person may explore the earth and find countless treasures. Their life, to them, will be richer in respect of the experiences collected. On the other hand, those experiences are worth nothing if they cannot be passed on to others.

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A great part of the enjoyment of travel, be it alone or with a companion, is in returning and sharing stories with others. Those stories serve to enlighten and inspire others, to educate and entertain them so that one day they too may do the same. On a dull day, remembering those experiences can lift spirits and fill the emotional darkness with light.

I was born into a nomadic lifestyle. My father, a Brightonian by birth, had fought during WW2 in North Africa (among other locations) and returned to work in Tripoli after the war ended. He was responsible for Public Works ie in the rebuilding of Libya’s infrastructure. It was there that he met my mother. She was Italian and her father had been in the Italian Diplomatic Service in Libya before the war. My mother had been living with her grandparents who had moved to Libya from Tunisia before the war and had returned there after the dust had settled. Her grandfather was in the construction business.

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The first 2 to 3 years of my life were based in a villa set between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert before we moved, temporarily to Brighton and then to Baghdad where my brother was born during our stay there.

Once I hit schooling age we moved back to England. My father worked for a civil engineering company so we lived in several places around England. My earliest memories were, as a 6-year-old, exploring the farm where we lived. It was there that I developed my love of nature.

On completion of my secondary schooling, I had the choice of following in my father’s footsteps by studying for a degree in civil engineering or joining an international bank. I must admit a few things here: I had wanted to study architecture but girls distracted me from getting the grades I needed; I would have liked to have gone to art college but couldn’t see a future in art (though art was in my future); and one significant reason for selecting a career in the bank that I joined was purely to travel to the Middle East.

In a career of over 35 years I had lived in 10 or 12 countries, travelled to over 30 more (split 50/50 work and pleasure) and I have to say I never really tired of seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing new foods and drinks. Travelling itself is not often fun, being reliant on airlines and hotels and sometimes food that one would prefer not to eat, but being in a new location is.

In my new life I have continued to travel, perhaps not as far, but certainly as often. Sometimes I am asked which was my favourite place to visit. My answer is always qualified: for example, I may like Dubai as it was in 1975, but I do not like Dubai as it is today! When in another country or city one absorbs all aspects of the environment: sights, sounds, smells and tastes and it remains in and changes a person. But it is the environment of a particular time.

Paradise is where your eyes, heart and soul decide on where your body should stay, at least for a while.

 

Alan Skyrme is a Travel writer and food photographer based in Brazil.

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Tiramisu

Quick watercolour sketch of a tiramisu pudding by the author

The classic tiramisu has been a popular dessert in many Italian restaurants throughout the world for a long time. Records of its creation date back to the late 1960s though there are several accounts of where and when it was first made including suggestions that it’s creation occurred centuries earlier.

One account is that it was first made in a restaurant called La Beccherie in Treviso by the restaurant owners at that time. Clearly they are keen to take credit for the invention of this great dish. While La Beccherie continues to serve tiramisu on its menu the original restaurant closed a few years ago and reopened under new management – though still under the Campeol family ownership.

Another story credits the place of invention in Siena some 300 to 400 years earlier.

I am inclined to believe the true origin of this dessert in the style “tiramisu”, which is one of my favourites, is in Le Baccherie. In my humble opinion, the confusion over the date of tiramisu’s birth arose from one of its key ingredients: the savoiardo biscuit. Savoiardi are the sponge cakes that are used to make tiramisu. They are also used in English trifles (known as zuppa inglese) which were originally produced in Elizabethan times. The English trifle of the 16th century supposedly used the savoiardi biscuits, so a principal ingredient found its way from Savoy to England.

Savoiardi, created in the Duchy of Savoy in the 15th century, are also known as Lady Fingers, champagne biscuits, sponge fingers and a host of other names in countries around the world. Tiramisu is a truly Italian dessert – more accurately, a Venetian desster and, more accurate still, a Trevisan dessert from the kitchen of Le Beccherie!

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Tiramisu at Twister, Porto Santa Margherita, Veneto

During my last trip to Veneto I sampled Tiramisu in two restaurants (Netuno and Twister) in Porto Santa Margherita. Both versions were very good though the one at Twister was the better one for me. While I spent some time in Treviso on that trip (August 2017) I did not have the opportunity to eat at Le Beccherie – which now serves meals in a modern style though continuing to serve the tradition tiramisu alongside a “molectular” version. Next trip!

 

My Recipe

  • 350 ml strong brewed coffee or espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 250 ml Marsala wine (optional, but without? Really?)
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 150 grams sugar
  • 450 grams mascarpone cheese
  • 40 savoiardi-style biscuits (depending on the size of dish)
  • Cocoa powder

The original tiramisu did not have the liqueur but I think marsala adds a nice taste – like sherry in English trifles. Some people add coffee liqueur or another spirit. To taste!

Mix the coffee and marsala in a shallow bowl.

Mix the sugar, egg yolks and mascarpone in another bowl

Place the biscuits in the coffee/marsala mix and allow to soak but not oversoak. The biscuits should not be allowed to go soggy!

Place the soaked biscuits in a glass dish – square or circular – whichever is available.

When the first biscuit layer is ready, add a layer of the cheese mix on top of the biscuits.

Repeat to create a second layer.

Optionally, place a thin layer of the cheese mix in the dish before adding the next two layers.

Top off with a dusting of the cocoa powder.

If there are any savoiardi biscuits left over, eat them with a cup of coffee … well deserved after spending half an hour preparing a great dessert!!

Done!

Chill in the fridge before serving.

Eat and enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

Acerola (Shoot Froot)

Acerola (Malpighia glabra) or Acerolla

Name:                   Acerola

Scientific name:  Malpighia emarginata

Other names:      Acerola cherry, Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crepe myrtle

 

Description:

Evergreen shrub originally from Yucatan, Mexico.

The cherry-sized drupes are juicy and a rich source of vitamin C. It can be eaten ripe, prepared as a juice, or preserved in the form of jam, jelly or syrup. Taste is quite sharp, so many people add sugar or honey.

Nutritional Benefits:

Acerola fruit is rich in vitamin C and is a good source of nutrients, minerals and vitamins.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)                   1644 mg (1826.67%)

Copper, Cu                                             0.084 mg (9.33%)

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)          0.303 mg (6.06%)

Carbohydrate                                       7.54 g (5.80%)

Vitamin A                                              37 µg (5.29%)

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)                     0.059 mg (4.54%)

 

Health benefits:

Antioxidant benefits, prevents liver damage, treats diarrhoea and dysentery, acts as a cold and cough remedy. Also used to prevent diabetes and obesity.

 

ASG images library:

We have a number of images in stock and can shoot to order

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.

Sweet stuff

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I like to read stuff about food and drink to check trends in what is being eaten, by whom, where, why etc. and while I wouldn’t describe myself as a nutritionist, certainly not a professional one, I do have some (diploma) qualifications in nutrition that enable me to comment confidently on what I see, read or do in respect of food and drink.

The headline of an article published in the NY Times yesterday caught my attention so I had to read it.

Opinion

Seriously, Juice Is Not Healthy

By Erika R. Cheng, Lauren G. Fiechtner and Aaron E. Carroll

The writers are professors of pediatrics.

It was the headline that prompted me to read the article. Although it had the desired effect in calling my attention, the headline was clearly WRONG and therefore misleading! Juice IS healthy and should be part of anyone’s diet (unless there are medical reasons not to drink juice or eat fruit).

There is a huge unwritten caveat in the article, one that should have been highlighted at the beginning. One that is probably needed in countries where all foods and drinks are bought in supermarkets! Pre-packed industrially-produced juices are not healthy.

The simple fact is that if one buys fruit and puts it in a squeezer or blender with water then the resulting juice IS healthy. The nutrients are there. If sugar is added (as in the case of the majority of packaged juices) then the health benefits are undermined.

Fruit contains sugar. There is no need to add more sugar. The problem is that so many people have become addicted to sugar from an early age that they feel a need to add sugar to juices … and even to savoury sauces. It is simply NOT necessary to add sugar to anything.

The global sugar trade is growing and is worth trillions. Clearly, not all sugar is destined for the dining table but it is, nonetheless, a staggeringly huge business.

The packaging of industrialised fruit juices, in many countries, will indicate the content of the product – especially added flavours, colourings etc. It makes sense to read the label of anything bought from a supermarket but many people do not have the time or knowledge to understand the meaning of these labels.

So, an article that tells people that juice is not healthy is misleading AND counterproductive … “experts” should be trying to educate and encourage people to make good, healthy choices. Now some readers will believe that fruit juice is not healthy!! It is.

Drink natural fruit juice – with no added sugar or sweeteners!!

The Dirty Planet legacy

A little piece of paradise. Long stretches of white sand running for miles with hardly a soul to be seen.

Coral reefs visible at low tide. Palm trees, topped with coconuts, along the edge of the beach. Bliss!

With such an ideal scene one would want to enjoy bathing in the sea, sun bathing on the beach and exploring the rock pools.

Yet how disappointing it is to find the coral tainted by the action of man.

Every rock pool, small or large, had plastic bags or other forms of plastic detritus in them. Social media is currently filled with examples of this problem but on what used to be the pristine beaches of Brazil’s northeast coast – unheard of. Why should any beach be different nowadays?

The plastic used to carry anything from groceries to building materials is discarded away from the beaches but the constant breeze the keeps the air in this region fresh and clean also serves to blow empty bags towards the coast.

Fishermen in the region have complained that at times their nets contain more rubbish than fish and even, on occasion, only rubbish.

It seems that the problem has grown exponentially in recent years … or perhaps we haven’t been observant enough till now.

Having seen the effect of some efforts to improve matters it may be possible to get things under control within a decade, and to clean up the seas within two decades.

Meanwhile, work has begun to clean up the debris that we have placed in space – in orbit.

We have created a dirty planet. Sad.

V and V+

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Want to become vegetarian (V)? Or even vegan (V+)? Much easier to do so at home where ingredients are under control. More difficult if the entire household sticks to being omnivorous! Like most people I like to eat out occasionally and, while vegetarian food can be found in many restaurants it is rare to find vegan-friendly establishments.

The search for vegan food can become frustrating.

If restaurants in the area don’t offer vegan food on their menu how do you get them to start doing so? Firstly, perhaps, by planting the idea. When calling to make a reservation, ask if they have both vegetarian and vegan options. If they do, great.

If they don’t, suggest that they consider doing so. One reservation perhaps lost, but possibly a new option in future if they take the message seriously.

Secondly, make meal suggestions if the V+ menu is thin. The benefit here is that vegan dishes are by default vegetarian while vegetarian dishes are not all acceptable to vegans. Many pasta dishes are vegan by nature (using an egg-less pasta recipe!).

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Third, pass the message to others if you find a good vegan restaurant.

Restaurants may not change overnight, and some may not change their menus too often but when they do they can add V+!

By suggesting amendments to the menu and V can become V+. Educate.

Note: I am neither vegetarian nor vegan but I am reducing the non-veg content of my meals by moving to healthier options.

(V) and (V+) are the annotations that I have adopted for my reviews of vegan food and restaurant. V = vegetarian and V+ is vegan ie more than vegetarian

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Insects – Food for thought

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Green and vegan salad

“Veganism is both the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. A follower of either the diet or the philosophy is known as a vegan”.

(Quoted from Wikipedia)

Wherever I go I like to try out local foods, drawing the line at eating live animals or duck embryos but, in general, I think the world has plenty of decent traditionally acceptable foods to keep us happy and I am happy with my own food preferences.

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Cricket anyone?

Personally, having lived a meat-rich life, I would find it difficult to adapt at my age to a vegan lifestyle, though it would be far easier if my friends and family took the same path. I do, however, support the philosophy and have decided to seek out and review, wherever possible, vegan outlets (supermarkets, restaurants etc) in my travels.

A vegan world would be a better more sustainable one. The quantity of animals destined to be eaten outnumbers the human population in some countries. This has resulted in the destruction of vast amounts of primary rainforest and an adverse impact on co2 emissions.

In many places, the processing of meat for human consumption has led to cruel, inhumane practices. Do something about this and the cost of production will go up thereby making meat more expensive and thus reducing the amount consumed. Market forces are working in favour of vegetarianism.

Once the demand for meat starts to decline then farmers will move to alternative production – fruit and vegetables. But this takes time.

Restaurants are key players, as are chefs. Interest in vegan and vegetarian food is changing positively. I expect that this is not just a fad but more likely a change in tide – the consumption of meat is quite possibly at or near its peak.

 

A question: do insects fall within or without a vegan diet? They aren’t, strictly speaking, animals. In various countries, more than one may imagine, insects form part of the local diet. Food companies are now looking at making use of insects in food preparation and, at the moment, regulation tends to govern the maximum quantity of insect content in food – on the basis that it may not be possible to eradicate 100% of grubs in a batch of sweet corn that gets canned for human consumption. While some vegans may consider insects to be “animals” perhaps that thought should be revisited!

Cricket soup. Deep fried critters on sale in Phnom Penh. Deep fried spider

Horses for courses

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I recently read an Economist 1843 Magazine article by Tom Rachman about a restaurant in Parma that serves raw horse meat sandwiches.

One can argue the ethics and taboos of eating horse meat but, when you think about it, it is really no different than eating the flesh of any animal, be it beef, lamb, goat or even dog.

This takes us into the realm of the ethics of being a non-veggie. In India, which is predominantly Hindu and thus vegetarian, restaurants that serve meat need to have separate kitchens and utensils for non-veg meals if they serve meat. McDonald’s in India has a veggie and non-veg menu (the veggie burger is spicy and really quite nice!). The Hindu people have survived for centuries without the need meat in their diet and live long rich lives.

Many “enlightened” people in Europe, USA etc are moving away from meat-eating to either a vegetarian or vegan diet. This is a good thing for many reasons though vegans (not all by any means) have a bad reputation when a few of them advocate aggressively that the world must become vegan.

In a world brought up on a tradition of “meat and two veg,” it’s going to take time to break the habits of a lifetime. This needs to be done by education. We do not need meat in our diet, but most of us are used to it. It will take time to adjust to a healthy V diet. Social media seems to be passing on the message.

As far as eating horse meat is concerned, the arguments for are, in comparison to eating beef, greater than one might expect. Horse meat has more essential vitamins and minerals! Good for health, especially for older folk.

Access to horse meat, for anyone who wants it, varies by country. In Sicily, I was surprised at the number of equine butchers – in one road there were two within twenty metres of each other. In UK I expect it might be difficult to find one but no doubt they exist.

I admit to having tried horse meat and found it good. It isn’t tough nor gamey in flavour, quite the opposite – tender and subtle. However, after a life of being non-vegetarian, I am weaning myself away from meat in general and have much more veg content in my diet. Show me a good salami, though, and I can’t (yet) resist. Cheese, with nice bread and a glass of wine, irresistible. Some people can give up almost overnight.

I think the world needs to move away from meat eating but this needs both education and enticing options in both restaurants and supermarkets. If it looks and tastes good it doesn’t really need a veggie or vegan label (when I order spaghetti napolitana I don’t think “vegan”, I think “pasta”).

 

I’m looking for positive ways to entice folk to move away from meat diets. Hundreds of generations of meat-eating aren’t going to come to an abrupt halt overnight, but a significant reduction in meat consumption could take effect quite quickly.

Caponata di Marsala

We had a nice light veggie lunch at “Natura a Tavola” in Marsala the other day. The restaurant is located on via Garibaldi near the Chiesa Madre and a short walk from Garibaldi Gate.

The place, not only a bar/restaurant, sat in a plastic tent on the pedestrian road while the building next to the tent houses both the kitchen and a shop selling wines, spirits and a multitude of local deli foods. The tent provided protection from both any rain that may present itself but also the cold wind that comes off the sea without respite in the winter. In warmer seasons the plastic sheeting is removed to leave only the large parasols.

Natura a Tavola serves a variety of foods typical of the ancient port town. I ordered the Caponata, the subject of this post, that is said to have originated hundreds of years ago, to the time of the saracen occupation, though the recipe now includes tomatoes that were introduced to Europe only in the late 16th century, and not used much in cooking till the 18th century!

The exact recipe for this dish is no doubt a secret cherished by the family-owned restaurant but I have listed below the key ingredients that I could identify.

We also had a tuna salad – a bowl full of rocket, tomato, mozzarella, olives and canned tuna. Very good.

Ratatouille is very similar to caponata but, in comparison, is a much younger concoction. There are other similar dishes from various parts of the Med, no doubt based on an original recipe carried by boat in the hands of a cook of that era!

The caponata was accompanied by a basket of bread – sliced italian bread that had been placed on a grill to give it a light toasty texture. Nicely done and helped soak up the sauce.

A glass of wine would have been nice but as I was driving I had to abstain, drinking water instead. I did however finish off the meal with a small glass of almond liqueur!

Caponata Ingredients

  • Olives – green (but the original recipe uses black olives)
  • Capers
  • Pine nuts
  • Almonds
  • Peppers (capsicum)
  • Celery
  • Tomato
  • Aubergines
  • Sultanas
  • Basil / oregano
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper

I am not a person that follows recipes to the letter – the ingredients are what count rather than the exact quantity. Sometimes what one has in stock dictates the end result. I am not sure if the restaurant cooked the ingredients with wine but I would normally pour in a touch of red wine to provide a bit of extra flavour to the caponata. Marsala wine would add a hint of sweetness particularly if green olives are in the pot.

More posts on food and drink from the region coming soon.

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And the winner is …

Typical off-the-shelf cannolo with chocolate drops (I used this as the baseline for comparison)

Last year I drove to the small village of Dattilo to buy what had been claimed in an Italian food magazine to be the best cannoli in Sicily (and thus the world!). Although it proved to be a good cannolo I also heard that the village of Napola (just a few kilometers away) also claimed to make the best cannoli.

I decided, therefore, that on my next visit to Sicily I should compare the two products and make my own judgement. Now that I am here I have made good on that promise.

This was not, on my part, a formal contest by any means. The only real test to establish the best Sicilian cannoli would be with a formal panel of judges and the best products from every municipality. A mammoth undertaking!

The Villages

Both Dattilo and Napola are small villages that fall under the government of Paceco which, in turn, falls under Trapani on the west of Sicily.

Bar Erice, Napola

Napola is the larger and older of the two villages. Bar Erice in Napola has been producing cannoli for 51 years while Euro Bar in Dattilo is the relative newcomer – 41 years!

Euro Bar, Dattilo

Cannolo

Cannoli (plural of cannolo) are pastries with a history that dates to the muslim occupation of Sicily, known then as the Sultanate of Sicily (AD 831-1091). The pastry is formed into a tube, hence its name (cannolo = little tube in Sicilian), and filled with a sweet ricotta cheese mix.

When buying connoli it is important to ensure that the filling is added at the time of purchase and not pre-filled. The pastry should be crisp hence pre-filling could spoil the biscuit by absorbing moisture.

The Contest

The plan was simply to try out the cannoli produced by the two pasticerias and decide which was the better product. We drove from Erice to Napola, about 20 minutes, to get a coffee and a couple of cannoli from Bar Erice, then another 5 minutes to Dattilo where we bought 2 more. One cannolo from each pasticeria would have been adequate!

I applied a simple rating system against 5 criteria that were compared against a baseline using a “standard” generally available cannolo. I decided to set aside the scores for the last criteria, presentation, since it was not critical and both locations used the same sort of packaging.

The criteria were:

  • Size
  • Biscuit
  • Filling
  • Price
  • Presentation

The results

Size

The Napola cannolo was a bit bigger and slightly heavier than that from Dattilo. In my opinion both of these cannoli are too big! Many places sell slightly smaller cannoli which, given their richness, are easier to consume. There are also finger-sized cannoli which avoid heartburn!

Two packets – four cannoli

Napola (L) and Dattilo (R) cannoli

Biscuit

The biscuit from Dattilo was “tailored” with a narrower waist but was less rigid in texture in comparison to that from Napola. My Dattilo cannolo broke, creating a mess on the table and causing difficulty to eat the remaining filling.

The Napola biscuit was harder (rather than crisper) but one of the two cannoli biscuits was broken or badly formed and, thus, should not have been served.

Filling

Both fillings were creamy though the one in the Dattilo cannolo was slightly more so.

Both cannoli had chocolate bits in the filling – more in the Napola product but not to the extent of distraction in either case. I deducted a point off the Napola and Dattilo cannoli for both using chocolate chips and for failing to offer the more traditional dried fruit as an alternative.

Price

Napola 2 euros each

Dattilo 2.40 euros each

Presentation

Both establishments provided the same packaging comprising a cardboard tray, cellophane sheet on top of the cannoli. The cannoli were then wrapped in paper and tied with coloured tape. Equal scores on presentation but I excluded these from the overall rating.

And the winner is ….

My objective was to confirm which one of the two pasticerias had the best cannoli.

The biscuit was more or less the same in the Napola and Dattilo pasticerias but both locations lost points for a couple of reasons each (Napola for serving a malformed biscuit, Dattilo for the biscuit breaking and the biscuits in both were a touch too hard).

Both versions of the filling included chocolate drops, much less in the Dattilo product, whereas I think the more traditional use of chopped regional fruit is appropriate and should at least have been offered as an option. Equally placed as far as the filling was concerned.

The Napola canolli were slightly bigger yet cheaper (20% difference) than the Dattilo cannoli. I would have preferred smaller cannoli – that an aweful lot of cheese squeezed into the biscuit tubes

I think that neither cannolo merits the title Best (a very subjective term in any event) in Sicily but there was, overall, little difference between the two. On price (ie value) I believe Napola wins on this occasion.

More on this subject when I try other cannoli …. I’ve heard there is a good place in Trapani!

Where

The drive from Erice to Napola is just 20 minutes with Dattilo another couple of minutes beyond, so we drove first to Napola.

Bar Erice, Napola

Bar Erice

Via Milano 295

Napola

Phone 0923 861302

Euro Bar, Dattilo

Euro Bar

Via Garibaldi 11-13

Dattilo

Phone 0923 861434

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