What time is it?

1st January, 2020, Erice, Sicily

It is certainly past my time to post a story here. Remiss of me but I have tons of useless excuses.

My last post was published while I was in Sicily. Since then I have been in Edinburgh from mid-July to mid-November, then back here to Sicily to assist my mother who unfortunately cracked a vertebra at the end of October resulting in her spending two months in hospital. I had planned to spend a few weeks over November/December in France before returning to Sicily but my mother’s accident caused me to change my plans.

Yesterday I spent a bit of time in contact with friends and family to wish them a Happy New Year. I grew out of the habit of staying up till midnight to see in the New Year but while I was mulling over the global location of midnight at the time that I went to bed I realised that I had friends and family dispersed across the entire planet’s time zones from Japan, Land of the Rising Sun, to Los Angeles, and multiple points in between.

Having my thoughts with all my family and friends I realised it doesn’t really matter what time of day it is when seeing in the New Year … midnight moves towards me and then past me, washing over and carrying my thoughts to loved ones in the process. I went to bed early but the sound of fireworks, akin to being in a war zone, went on for hours from early evening to well after midnight (though exactly what hour it stopped was unknown to me).

I am in Sicily for one more week before returning to my home base but I plan on being back here in Spring – date not fixed yet. Later this month I shall catch up on my posts, especially covering my activities in Scotland, plus a few more from here. I shall also reorganise my blogs, social media, websites and workflow with a view to publishing with more appropriate regularity. The best laid plans ….

Happy New Year!

Cassata

Traditional Sicilian painted wagon

Before having a siesta after lunch last week I came across something on Face Book that a friend had posted.

http://www.custonaciweb.it/i-dolci-piu-buoni-del-mondo-sono-siciliani-ad-affermarlo-e-il-new-york-times/

It’s an article that appeared on the village webpage of Custonaci, a small town outside Erice. The article references a piece published at the end of last year in the Los Angeles Times about the best pastries in the world being made in Sicily.

While in general I would agree, as soon as I saw the article I was struck by deja vu. To finish off our lunch of roast chicken and panelle we had …. one of the very same pastries featured above.

Cassatina Sicilianathe classic mini Sicilian cassata

The ones we bought were from a local pasticceria in Erice, while not the best that I have eaten they were a nice way to finish our meal.

Cassatina is a small cake, that’s how I think it’s best to describe it. The nearest thing in UK supermarkets are the famous Mr Kipling French Fancies – small sponge cakes that are covered in icing.

Selection of Mr Kipling French Fancies

Personally, I like the Kipling cakes though do not feel the sane sense of satisfaction after eating them that I get from cassatina’s.

The Sicilian cassatina, if well made, has that level of satisfaction that only comes with freshly made cakes made with great ingredients and the passion of a good pastry chef.

The traditional cassatine are made with a sponge base soaked in fruit juice (or alcohol, eg marsala), with a layer of ricotta cheese and candied fruit, topped with a thin covering of marzipan. Delicious and possible to make at home (though I will write about this at a later date).

A Sicilian Caper!

Caper bush (Capperis spinosa), also known as Flinders Rose

Capers are well known as a pickled condiment. It is the flower buds that are harvested and pickled though, after flowering, the fruit or berries can also be harvested for pickling.

The bush, with its long stems, is a perennial plant that is found throughout the Mediterranean region and in my mother’s garden in Erice.

Flower buds and leaves on the Caper Bush

In addition to the culinary use of the buds and berries the leaves can also be pickled and used in salads.

The delicate flowers of the Caper Bush

The plant is said to have several medicinal benefits including remedies for diabetes, fungal infections, chest congestion, intestinal worms , and skin disease caused by a form of leishmaniasis.

Slender, young seed pods

Capers are used in many Sicilian dishes and salads, while the leaves are more often seen in Cypriot food.

Nutrition

While rich in some nutritional aspects pickled capers have a high sodium content.

Macro-nutrients

Micro-nutrients

Sources: US Dept of Agriculture via Wikipedia

Kiwi.com? I’m still deciding!

As a frequent traveller I have collected a number of travel apps that cover everything relevant to my travel needs from airline bookings to weather conditions. I group these on my iPhone and iPad so that I can access information quickly and, when necessary, make reservations at short notice. The apps that I have are the best travel apps as far as I am concerned.

I tried Kiwi.com for the first time earlier this year in order to get from Edinburgh to Florianopolis in the south of Brazil. Ordinarily I would have booked the intercontinental leg through TAP Portugal and the other connections via local airlines but on this occasion I didn’t like the prices.

It was my first time using the Kiwi app. Downloading and registering was straightforward, as it should be, and the search for the best flights was simple. I booked a route that took me from Edinburgh to Venice on Easyjet, Venice to Lisbon and Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro with TAP Portugal, and Rio de Janeiro to Florianopolis on Avianca (a Latin American airline that suffered financially in Brazil last month and no longer operates there!).

I didn’t like Avianca as it was the only airline that didn’t accept on-line checkin so I had to go to the counter – luckily a short queue for us over-60s*.

I am used to doing my own online checkin but discovered that Kiwi does this for you with, in this case, the exception of Avianca. In theory that saves a bit of effort for travellers but caused me some anxiety as I can be a control-freak at times.

All went smoothly though I decided I probably wouldn’t use Kiwi again.

Until last week!

I wanted to get from Edinburgh to Erice (Trapani, Sicily) as cheaply as I could. I know that Ryanair goes to Trapani as I have used them many times in the past – usually requiring an overnight stay in Bologna or Bergamo, Italy. However, the Ryanair app showed only flights from Edinburgh to Palermo while Trapani didn’t even appear on their list of airports. So I looked at the Kayak app where I found a number or routes.

Next day I opened up the Kiwi app and booked the cheapest flights from Edinburgh to Trapani. Kiwi. Not Kayak! Too many apps. Still, I managed to get a flights from and to the cities I wanted.

Cheap sometimes does come at a cost. Over the course of 24 hours I shall have taken 3 flights and a bus trip that, in total, will allow me to visit Eire, Luxembourg, Germany and Sicily on the route from Edinburgh.

The itinerary is interesting I suppose: Edinburgh to Dublin on Hainan Airways (!). Dublin to Luxembourg on Ryanair. A bus from Luxembourg (a city that I haven’t visited since hitch-hiking there from London in 1971) to Frankfurt, and a plane from Frankfurt to Trapani on Ryanair.

The return journey will be almost as spectacular. Trapani to Karlsruhe, then to London (Stansted), then Dublin (yea, yea, fresh Guinness!) and finally to Edinburgh.

I received the booking acknowledgement and confirmation by email – the first within minutes of making the reservations, the second after Kiwi had confirmed each of the flights. I also received the bus ticket for the trip to Frankfurt. The Ryanair boarding cards will be emailed to me on the day before I travel, which leaves me a bit jittery, while the first flight requires me to check in at the desk in Edinburgh.

Kiwi included connection insurance between flights. I didn’t used to take travel insurance when offered but on my trip from Brazil to Edinburgh in February this year I did – luckily! My flights from Lisbon to Gatwick was delayed by 6 hours (for which I received statutory compensation) while the insurance cover got me onto a later flight, having missed my connection. The insurance arrangement worked smoothly – staff at a desk in the departure area at Gatwick made all the arrangements quickly and efficiently.

The Kiwi experience, so far, has been good so I shall keep the app on my iPhone/iPad.

My journey begins at 5am today. I shall update tomorrow on arrival in Sicily.

* In Brazil it is, for any commercial/customer arrangement, a legal requirement to give queuing priority to the disabled, persons over 60 years of age, pregnant women and mothers carrying infants. At airports this group ranks ahead of Business Class passenger boarding. Persons over the age of 80 do not need to queue and get first priority. I think Europe ought to adopt this policy.

All about image

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Venice in the rain

Bags packed and ready to fly. First port of call will be Lisbon where the weather is expected to be as warm as it is in Brazil so I will be out and about capturing images of food and sights to add to my collections.

As well as selling images through my principal agent, Alamy, I sell direct to clients and can take advance orders for specific images before I travel. I have just signed up to a new (for me) web-based photographic agency, FotoWoo, which I find potentially useful for picking up semi-commissioned work. It seems to work like an agency I used to use (Photographers Direct) that provided me with a few leads in years gone by but better. FotoWoo makes use of a request and supply system that is easily accessible via desktop or mobile apps. I think it has potential since it offers buyers the ability to obtain images from a variety of photographers. It makes us competitive too which is not a bad thing!

You may ask: How do I search for an image online? Google obviously helps but image agencies, unless you know a photographer, are the best bet.

In addition to the two agencies that I sell through, I also make use of other competitive sites through which to attract business: Freelancer and Upwork among others.

If in doubt, ask me! I will happily answer questions and more happily sell photos – they don’t have to be expensive!

The British Egg Custard Tart

Egg custard tart (Asda)

A month ago (10th January) I posted a note about pasteis de nata. I mentioned that whenever I am in the UK I buy egg custard tarts, and I did so today!

The English egg custard tart looks similar to the Portuguese pastel de nata but the origin of this product is much older than its Iberian cousin. The pastry is different – the English version is made from a traditional pie pastry while the Portuguese version is based on puff pastry. The flavouring of the custard is different too: the English version is nutmeg flavoured while the Portuguese version has a touch of cinnamon. The Portuguese pastel has less custard and is harder on the bite while the English version has a soft pastry and more custard in the filling.

Pasteis de nata

There is a difference between the Portuguese cream pastry and the British custard tart both visually and, more so, in the taste and texture. I like both and will post recipes in a few weeks time.

I prefer the freshly produced egg custards from a small bakery or cake shop but I have no issues with getting the industrial supermarket version off the shelf if there is no fresh stock. I like both varieties!

ASG images library:

We have a number of nutrition-related images in stock and can shoot to order. Contact us for stock or commissioned images.

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition and has provided opinions in this post it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriately registered practitioners. The opinions provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete or out of date

Pastel de Belem

Pastel de Belem, with added fruit as a breakfast treat

Egg custard tarts, also known in UK simply as custard tarts, are very popular and are available in boxes of 6 in supermarkets, or individually in specialist bakeries. Either way, I have always loved them – the pastry tends to be soft and the custard topped with a touch of nutmeg combine beautifully. I always buy them when in UK and have no issues with getting the industrial supermarket version if there isn’t a small bakery or cake shop with fresh stock.

In Brazil, it is often possible to find pasteis de nata in local bread shops (padarias) but, on visits to Lisbon, I found the best of these non-English versions of the humble custard tart – the Pastel de Belem.

Technically the pastel de Belem is another name for the pastel de nata, but the Pastel de Belem has a history going back two hundred years wherein catholic monks prepared pasteis de nata to raise money for themselves, having been evicted in an action against the church. The pastry then became known as Pastel de Belem after the area in Lisbon where they were made and sold mainly to visitors to the Tower of Bethlehem (Torre de Belem), or so the story goes.

There is a bakery, the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, that has been selling these tasty tartlets since those times and which, now, is a tourist magnet with crowds queuing to buy freshly baked pasteis.

The Pastel de Belem looks similar to the traditional (and historically much older) English egg custard tart. The pastry is different – the English version is more of a traditional pie pastry while the Portuguese version is a puff pastry. The flavouring of the custard is different too: the English version is nutmeg flavoured while the Portuguese version has a touch of cinnamon. The Portuguese has less custard and is harder on the bite while the English version has a soft pastry and more custard in the filling.

I like both. No, I LOVE both!!

I haven’t yet tried to make my own Pastel de Belem though it isn’t difficult but, when I get around to it, I shall post the recipe that I use.

Note:

Portuguese                English

Pastel                           Pastry

Pasteis                         Pastries

Nata                             Cream

Belem                          Bethlehem

Fabrica                        Factory

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.

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.

And a very sad New Year in Natal (for some)

Following the situation in which government services staff attempted to celebrate Natal in Natal, the government has mandated the police force to return to work, despite the lack of cars and guns to enable them to work and despite the fact that 3 months salary are overdue. The late payment of salaries has been an issue for two years.

Good, honest police officers are unable to feed their families, unable to pay bills, rent or loan payments and have been told to return to work or BE ARRESTED!

One officer has apparently committed suicide while another has attempted to end his life.

Prison officers have threatened to free inmates if the state government doesn’t take positive action to resolve this situation. The Federal government, it seems, is happy to watch the edges of its empire fall into ruin.