Bastonici di filetti di merluzzo

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Mixed vegetables (minestrone)

My second post of the year, and a bit tongue in cheek, but I am on track to publish posts on a weekly basis from now on.

The full title of this dish is bastonici di filetti di merluzzo con verdure miste e pan Bauletto integrale. It is a simple dish to prepare and is ready to eat within just fifteen minutes, though I allowed a little extra time (perhaps 30 minutes) while I attended a video call with my wife).

Anyone reading this with a bit of Italian language knowledge may be a little bit intrigued by this post but all will be revealed quite quickly. First of all I need to say that it is a non-veg / non-vegan meal in view of the fish content.

Here is where things start to become clear … the ingredients:

– bastonici de filetti di merluzzo – I took four

– verdure miste surgelata – a big handful

– pan Bauletto integrale – two slices

The translation:

– four cod fish fingers

– frozen mixed veg

– two slices of wholemeal bread

The process:

Put olive oil in a pan and heat.

Add the fish fingers and cook for two minutes, turn over the fish fingers and cook for a further two minutes. Make space in the pan and add the mixed veg. I stirred them a bit to ensure they were thoroughly heated then placed the fish fingers on top to avoid over-cooking the fish.

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Place on a plate. Put a fish finger or two on a slice of bread with some of the vegetables then fold and eat. The size of the slices of bread will determine how many fish fingers can be accommodated.

Great sandwich!

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Fish finger and veg sandwich

Arancina Siciliana

Ragu arancina with kebab

The famous Sicilian rice balls, known as arancini in view of their size, shape and colour that remind one of oranges, have to be on the list of the “must try” treats to experience when visiting the island.

The rice balls made with a filling, coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. The most common fillings are ragù, mozzarella, or ham and mozzarella.

The best in my opinion are the arancini made with ragu filling (minced beef, tomato and herbs – similar to a bolognese sauce).

It is common to find arancini, regarded as snacks or street food, in bakeries, supermarkets and in cafes.

In some parts of Sicily the arancini are formed into a conical shape. In both cases, round or conical, there are similar looking products served in Brazil where they are known as “coxinha” as a result of their taking the approximate shape of a chicken thigh (that’s another story for when I return to Brazil), ball-shaped but with different ingredients.

It is believed that arancini have been around in Sicily since the days of the muslim occupation of the island ie 1000 years or more.

As with many traditional foods the arancina is considered a meal in itself. Like the cornish pastie, or sandwich, arancini were made to be carried and eaten on the move. The original take-aways.

Full Scottish veggie breakfast

A small seasonal clump of Snowdrops (Scientific name: Galanthus) in Craiglockhart woods, Edinburgh

I had been looking after my granddaughter during the morning while my daughter popped out for her pilates class. It was a pleasant experience that went well – I may be a bit rusty nowadays but with 6 daughters I have certainly has my share of wet nappies, bath-times, feeding and playtimes.

When my daughter returned to find a sleeping baby in my arms she suggested that we go for a walk and have a pub lunch. That sounded like a perfect plan for me.

We grabbed our coats, the pushchair, the two dogs and my camera and headed out towards Morningside, a well-to-do area area on the south side of Edinburgh, passing through a wooded park area in Craiglockhart.

The walk took about thirty minutes – a brisk walk with the occasional pause to take photos of flora and fauna – reaching our destination, The Waiting Room Bar, at about midday.

Menu cover at The Waiting Room

The bar, which is dog friendly, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It is one of Edinburgh’s best known bars that serves food though-out the day: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The dogs were provided with a water bowl before our orders were taken. We had coffee to warm us up while I ordered the Scottish Veggie breakfast from the breakfast menu and my daughter opted for the Vegetarian Hornig’s of West Calder Haggis from the main menu. Both great choices.

Scottish Veggie breakfast

The veggie breakfast included fried eggs, a veggie haggis, a veggie sausage, hash brown potatoes, potato bread, fried tomato, baked beans, mushrooms and toast.

This was a vegetarian version of the Full Scottish Breakfast that I tried a couple of years ago (see post of 03OCT17). Nice.

Good food at a good price.

More about this bar in the coming weeks.


7, Belhaven Terrace,

Mornington, Edinburgh EH10 5HZ


0131 452 9707

Or online via their site:


I have explored and photographed the ruins just off Lungomare Dante Alighieri, near the division between Trapani and Erice, on several occasions over recent years.

There is a fence around the ruins but, I noted today, that part of a wall that used to be boarded up has been destroyed since my last visit.

The fence on the bay overlooking Trapani has been knocked down so it’s easy to enter the site. Judging by the quantity of broken beer, wine and whisky bottles I presume that the site is used at night for illicit parties or as a place to sleep for the homeless.

The site itself was once the Tonnara San Giuliano, one of several tuna canning factories along this stretch of coast. I am not sure when or how it fell into ruin but it seems there are plans (slowly developing ones!) to build an hotel on the site.

On the Trapani side of the site the beach runs in a long curve to the opposite side of the bay. In summer the beaches are crowded but there are places to get drinks, snacks or meals. Car parking is always an issue.

On the Erice side the sea laps close on rocky outcrops that extend to the road near the Grande Migliore store – about 150 metres – and from there the sandy beach extends to the old windmills at San Cusumano.

I decided to get more photos of the site before it disappears, though there is a good chance the place will remain as it is for a couple more years!

Worth exploring if you happen to be in the area and especially if you like nature – there are a few species of birds to see, and wild flowers.

Swans of Porto Santa Margherita

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Between the beach-side Venetian towns of Porto Santa Margherita and Caorle runs the traghetto, a small car and pedestrian ferry that travels the 30 metre distance from one side of the Livenza river to the other. There is a road that can take cars across the water but it’s a much longer route.

The mouth of the Livenza has a pair of long thin concrete walls that provide protection to the fishing boats that operate from the centre of Caorle. On either side of the river, beyond the walls are the beaches of the Adriatic coast, curving from Venice to the south west towards Trieste to the north east.

There is quite a lot of natural habitat in the area. Canals connected to the river are used for irrigation and drainage and there is parkland that protects some rare flowers as well as birds.

In the mouth of Livenza it is common to see mute swans – adults and immatures, and in the spring, the newly hatched “ugly duckling” cygnets. I have not counted them but would guess between 50 and 100 birds in total.

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Just near the traghetto point there is a small patch or reeds where, each year, a pair of swans lay eggs. They seem to be unperturbed by the many human onlookers.

The ferry runs  during the holiday season only, from April to end September, the exact dates subject to the whim of the traghetto owner who, for many years, held a grudge against the local council for building the road bridge and taking away his monopoly! Outside the summer months local residents have to drive to Caorle or get a bus.

So the swans get a bit of peace during the autumn and winter but otherwise seem unaffected by the influx of tourists.



Food for thought

Mixed vegetables in moody lighting

I see a lot of food pictures every day and, happily, the majority are of a very high standard. Perhaps that’s because my search parameters tends to look for good images but I think also that the whole business of food photography, and photography in general, is improving in quality. Both professional and amateur.

When I make photographs of food I use either one of my top end pro cameras or my iPhone. One is more formal and controlled while the other is more spontaneous and lively. I use the cameras in-studio and occasionally in restaurants (for my own account). When in-studio the cameras are connected to my computer so I can easily make subtle adjustments  before engaging the shutter release.

The iPhone is great in restaurants since it is not obtrusive. If I am invited by a restaurant to capture images then its likely that an area is cordoned off from customers or its outside normal serving hours so I can set up a camera and tripod and have a stylist work the scene. Speed is of the essence in such circumstances so good planning is paramount.

A good stylist helps enormously. Good ones are not cheap, it’s a complex and artistic process that requires experience and knowledge of what works. Accessories also help and stylists have, or have access to, whatever will make a better composition. The stylist, the photographer and the client need to spend time in ensuring the objectives are clearly understood and prepared for.

I have seen images that have been nicely decorated but viewers of the image may feel, yet not necessarily know, that there is something not right. Petals neatly and symmetrically arranged around a plate, for example, tend to irritate me. While they may add colour and interest, they can also create distraction unless there is a clear link to the subject matter. Well-placed, seemingly randomly distributed, petals that reflect light or create subtle shadows are difficult to incorporate but when done well looks totally natural and the viewer can appreciate the subject.

iPhones have access to a broad range of apps that support photography. This is great since one can create moods and atmosphere  in addition to a well composed image. Good for spontaneous shots since there is little time to improve a scene that was laid out for consumer convenience rather than artistic merit without disturbing other diners.

The type of food being photographed should determine the style of the image. Salads should be fresh and sunny, hot soups for cold days should have a wintery feel with the steam clearly visible. Hence the need to discuss the shoot with the customer in advance. Simple on-the-fly travel images taken in restaurants work better with spontaneity but should to a great degree reflect the environment and be true to the image of the restaurant and its food. Bread needs to show its texture and wholesomeness.

Food for thought!

Real Amazon Experience Tours

Rio Preto da Eva beach

Image: Rio Preto da Eva beach, near Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil

Anyone foolhardy enough to actually want to spend a few days in the jungle should do so. It’s a tremendous experience and I actively encourage anyone to do it.

There are a few ways of doing so and, as I have done a fair bit of “jungle-bashing” in my time, I reckon that the tips that I provide will be of some value.

I have lived in/near rainforests in three locations: Brunei Darussalam, Amazonian region of Brazil and the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest. Just to annoy biologists I can say that they are all pretty much the same! So if you are looking for experience then just choose your preferred location!

While the Atlantic Rainforest is sub-tropical and gets quite cold in the winter months, particularly in the south, Amazonia is equatorial and stays hot all year. The big difference is that the Amazon region suffers (perhaps “enjoys” is a better word) heavy rainfall during the “winter” months from December to June.

When I say “winter” I should clarify that Southern hemisphere seasons are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere. Logical. So when it is winter in the north it is summer in the south. I emphasise this only because travellers from the northern hemisphere may need to pack a mix of clothes (though I try to arrange RAE tours in September which avoids this).

There are, as I indicated, a few ways to experience the jungle. Rainforests, in general, are full of large and small creepy crawly things with fangs and venom etc that are the source of nightmares and cold sweats. So a jungle is not an environment in which you can just freely enter when you feel the urge, certainly not alone.

Tours are still the best way of getting to see the rainforest intimately. Two, three or four days is adequate for those wishing to tick their bucket-list, and it is possible to arrange these things with a degree of comfort and security. Visits of longer duration, for photographic, botanical, anthropological or similar professional interest, are obviously possible, and provide a deeper experience, but have much different logistical requirements.

Where to go

I suggest two eco-systems if you have the time. Manaus offers access to both white water and black water locations, but downstream locations also exist eg Belem at the mouth of the Amazon.

How to get there

For the Brazilian Amazon, fly to Manaus. Usual points of entry to Brazil are Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but there are other options eg Natal.

When to go

July to December. I prefer September to November as there is less likelihood of heavy constant tropical rain and the rainy seasons can start early or end late.

What to take

As little as possible. In addition to light clothing (long sleeves if you feel the need) I suggest: camera, insect repellent, sun-screen, hat, any personal medication.

What to see

Pink dolphins, birds, insects, monkeys, reptiles, plants, flowers, fruit, people (indigenous and settlers), the rainforest, waterfalls, fish and gastropods.

Alan Skyrme has run Real Amazon Experience tours for almost 20 years and can arrange these to order – small groups or large, corporate or individual. These would occur in the months of September, October or November with a duration of up to three weeks. Contact us for further details.

Buy the book to learn more: Real Amazon Experience

British writer, photographer and tour coordinator Alan Skyrme takes you into the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil.

This book provides a taste of what to expect on one of his Real Amazon Experience tours

Gramado, Brazil

Largo da Borges, Gramado

Famous within Brazil as one of the few locations in the country that occasionally gets snow in winter is the town of Gramado in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul (RS). The state is famed for its “gauchos” – cowboys whose range extends from Argentina through Uruguay to RS. Visitors, passing through the stone and wood portal at the entrance to Gramado, would be forgiven for thinking they had somehow been teleported from Brazil to Bavaria. The town of Gramado has a population of 35,000, many descended from German or Italian immigrants, but has year-round tourism that boosts its numbers significantly.

Our pousada, on the outskirts of Canela, seemed to be hidden on a quiet lane among  tall trees. After the check-in process, which was concluded quickly, we ordered food from a takeaway restaurant since the pousada’s restaurant was used only for breakfast. We ordered pancakes: a “Gaucho” which was filled with chopped beef and a “Rio” whose filling was shredded chicken.  Really nice and just what we needed after a day of travelling without a decent meal. After eating we showered and slept.

The pousada comprised a main bungalow with reception, kitchen and dining area, and a collection of five chalets – each of which had two accommodations. Our room being half a chalet, had a double bed and a single bed that had another mattress underneath thus allowing 4 people to sleep quite comfortably. The room had an en suite bathroom with shower. It also had a “lareira” – a black metal wood-burning fire in the corner of the room, next to which was a stack of wood ready to burn if we felt moved to use it which we did on the last night.

All of the chalets were set in a flower filled garden of azaleas, magnolias, snapdragons, alyssum, and local plants.  Towering above the property were the spreading arms of araucaria pines – a protected species that exists in the south of Brazil, Uruguay  and northern Argentina – and a couple of other species of pine tree. The pousada  was located in Canela’s neighbourhood of Vila Suzana, a quiet residential area where the calls of parrots, wrens and tanagers provide  the most noise during the day, while cicadas broke the night silence.

The towns of Gramado and Canela are walking distance apart, though not many people would walk even if undertaking a door to door visit to the chocolate, clothes or leather shops that sit between the two towns. Total distance is about 7 kms.

Gramado is the richer of the two. It is filled Bavarian-style buildings containing high end clothes stores, shoe shops, chocolate shops and restaurants that serve traditional brazilian barbecued meats, fondues, soups, pizzas or pasta.

The roads are well made, traffic well conducted and polite to pedestrians. Parking is possible on the roads, subject to purchase of time-based tickets, at a rate of about Rs5 (£1.20) per three hours. It may take a few minutes to find a parking place but all are close to the shops and restaurants.

Places to go include the chocolate outlets, Lago Negro, Igreja Matriz de Sao Pedro with its statues of the 12 apostles, and Rua Coberta, a road covered by a canopy topped with vines. The latter featured an exposition and sale of orchids in addition to the restaurants and bars it has under the cover.

A word about the chocolate factories and outlets: there are numerous shops that sell their own chocolates. Most have quite a range of chocolate bars, truffles and liqueurs. Several are contracted by Nestle and/ or local mass market vendors though their names are not visible other than in supermarkets. The base chocolate recipe varies from manufacturer to manufacturer but the products are similar. One, Florybal, also has a theme park outside Canela.

The town of Canela is more residential than Gramado, but it has its own charm and several tourist locations such as the Catedral de Pedra (Stone  Cathedral). A number of attractions are located outside the centre of the town – all just a few kilometers distant. One of these is a park with a waterfall, quite pretty but not, in my opinion, spectacular. Well worth a visit though – the park contains grassy areas between tall Araucaria pine trees and a path that overlooks the waterfall. More about Canela in another post.


A Venetian appetiser

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Normally served as an appetiser I used to enjoy carpaccio as an accompaniment to wine.

Although this dish is pretty well-known throughout the world, especially in Italian restaurants, it is in fact a relatively new addition to any menu having been invented in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar on the Grand Canal in Venice.

A typical carpaccio is prepared with finely sliced beef, or fish, and served with olive oil, lemon juice and parmesan cheese. In some places it is also served with capers and onion, though I find that the onion is too strong for this delicate dish.

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