Sunday, August 14, 2011

No need to feel Forlorn as I'm Cooking up a Storm!

Everyone does it with conviction whether at home or in business I hear you say
But the truth is I have never until now really thought about it in my very own way
You see that cooking was something best left to the wife or before her the mother
And committing time or energy to it was beyond me and really too much of a bother.

But now for once let’s sound the bugle and lets with total conviction issue a rallying call
For with idle time on my hands I have at last committed to master the art for once and all
And like any previous resolution in life I will study it with great precision and some care
For it’s useless to start out on this venture with no proper utensils or the cupboard bare.

So I have acquired a series of colourful cookbooks, mostly I’ll admit with fine Italian fare
And I have redecorated the kitchen to give it a new image of a sophisticated culinary lair
Of course I have also watched DVD’s of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and even Contaldo
For though I wish to cook mostly Italian I don’t want to basically mix up freddo and caldo.

Like all men who aspire to taking lessons in life I am not ready to simply just rely on luck
For like Hester Blumenthal, my ambition is to run a famous restaurant like The Fat Duck.
I have already begun to take notes and to ponder whether snails go with salmon moose
But my wife remains very sceptical and thinks that I will just end up cooking my goose.

She should wait until she tastes my fine food and she can ask her friends round for tea
And perhaps she could even recommend me for TV fame or at least Come Dine with Me.
Yes there is no limit to my potential for achieving an expression of gastronomic delight
Alas my efforts so far could be deemed a trifle banal, trivial or even a sad and sorry sight.

Perhaps my first efforts in preparing Fegato Grasso al Balsamico left me in a sort of bind
And my wife’s view that my Risotto Primavera was just edible could even be deemed kind
Maybe I was a little over ambitious in first attempting to serve Tuscan Fagiano Tartufato
But I have to admit that her criticisms of my cooking process were beginning to ‘grato’.

So she took me aside, sighed and said that my cooking fare required some key reflection
For example, could I without any knowledge or skills achieve a harmonious perfection?
Cooking she said is an art form forged by many people over a lifetime of trial and error
And any attempt to master it by me over a weekend could lead to disaster or even terror.

In cooking like prison, she said, you have to do time and with my efforts she was pleased
But I’m not sure if this assuaged my sense of unfilled ambition or indeed of being teased.
She said why not start by aspiring to getting her breakfast in bed which would be super
And would give me a real break from rugby football matches and drink induced stupor.

I now realise that cooking for each other is best thought of as a form of human sharing,
And that the relative skills of each party should not be a source of friction to that pairing
But deep down in me there is still a small but smouldering sense of uneasiness and dread
Because I sometimes think that she may have hoodwinked me just to get breakfast in bed.

On balance though when I smell and taste her fine cooking I get a great sense of yearning
I suppose it’s not too much to ask to bring up her coffee, porridge and toast of a morning.
You see cooking fine dishes are but pastimes best enjoyed with friends purely for fun
And endless discussion on their relative merits is unnecessary when all is said and done.

Note: This is a purely fictional verse written for amusement only.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Colour me Beautiful with Fish, Fruit and Florio wine!

Words seem superfluous here because I am posting a few photographs largely for my own sake to remember fondly all the magnificent vibrant natural produce of the Sicilian seas and countryside which of course can best be savoured with a glass of wine. Although the Florio Marsala wine is very sweet and is therefore best enjoyed in a milder climate than the average 37 degrees of heat common throughout the summer in Sicily, it’s labelling at least catches the colour and light of the landscape where it is produced. A celebration therefore of Pure Magic all round!

A Sicilian Sogno with Cheerful Cherubs and 'Ellenico Splendico'

It seems that we arrived too late in Syracuse. The famous tenor, Andrea Bocelli had been singing at the wonderful open air Greek Theatre the previous week. However, my wife and I did take time to visit the Theatre which is still in operation and dates from the 5th century B.C. It is a magical place set in the hills above the city and indeed it is only one of many Hellenic Splendours (Ellenico Splendore) to be found in Sicily from another open air Greek theatre in Taormina to the magnificent Greek Temple at Segesta. However, a few days later when we visited the famous baroque Town of Noto I came across a street trader selling cd’s in the market square and I was able to acquire from him Bocelli’s CD ‘Sogno’ or dream in English translation. It is a lovely collection of songs and we were able to listen to them in our apartment in Ortigia while we savoured the historical ambience and were seduced by the lovely old buildings of Syracuse.

Sicily is of course famous for its fine baroque buildings. This architecture dates from the late 16th century and was employed by the Catholic Church as an expression of triumphal power and prestige in response to the detractions proffered by the Protestant reformation. Thus it became a dominant force in Sicily after the devastating earthquake of 1693. There are of course many fine examples of Baroque architecture throughout the cities of Sicily. Indeed, Ortigia itself, being the area of Syracuse jutting out into the sea, is an UNESCO World Heritage site where 380million euro has been spent between 2001 and 2006 restoring the city infrastructure. However, it is probably Noto, which is more famous for its Baroque buildings probably because they dominate the whole character of the central area from the main piazza, to the town hall and the magnificent Duomo. It is also famous however for its Spring Festival which culminates in the “Infiorata di Via Nicolaci” when local artists decorate a steep narrow street in a carpet of flowers.

Although Baroque decoration and ornament can appear excessive and even a trifle ‘vulgar’ to some modern minimalist aesthetic tastes it is nevertheless a wonderful celebration of artistic endeavour at a particular period in Italian history. However, while acknowledging the significance and intrinsic value of this architecture I must say that I find the Italian fascination with ‘cheerful cherub’ stucco or Putti statues a bit ‘off putting’. These little chubby figures of supposed infant children are found in abundance in churches and paintings and we even found a pair of reproduction Putti attached over the bed head in our apartment. However, the most extreme example of these petty ‘puttis’ was I feel in the Cappella Palatina (Palace Chapel) on the upper floor of the castle in Castelbuono. It is described in the brochure as a “sumptuous spectacle extremely rich in images within a setting of the relic of the Virgin Mary’s mother”. However, such is the profusion of marble, stuccowork, putti and friezes that the overall effect is one of bizarre overindulgence in cherub chic. Indeed I feel that the brothers Guiseppe and Giacomo Serposa who are credited with this work must have had the historic equivalent of a Barbie doll fascination such was there affinity with these ridiculously banal cherub statues.

May I therefore end this little discourse by recommending to you a YouTube video of Andrea Bocelli singing with Eros Ramazzotti the song from the CD Songo called “Nel Cuore Lei” in which the following lines are sung and for me sum of the spirit and magic of Sicily:

“She’ll touch your heart” or in Italian”Ti prendere il cuero”

Sicily indeed renews one’s faith in baroque architecture and the people who continue to treasure it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Enjoying Perfect Pizza with a side order of White Tiles and the Colour of the Wind

If I were to list my favourite foods, pizza would not be high on the list. I have a particular aversion to the stodgy food under the pizza label, sold in many supermarkets packaged under the name of a gangster movie or card game title. In fact many of these pizzas resemble a flat pancake with a thinly spread dubious looking sauce and what appeared to be synthetic plastic like vegetables interspersed on top. Not a sight never mind a taste inclined to make one salivate in anticipation of a delicious meal. However, my opinion of Pizzas has changed radically after visiting the Calvino Pizze in Trapani on a recent visit to Sicily. This small establishment in the old town is famous for its wonderful freshly made food and local wine and does a roaring trade both in talk away pizzas and in house dining. Its layout is supposed to be based upon a Moroccan theme in that the interior is decorated with only white tiles with a green trim and green tablecloths and it has stepped ziggurat pattern of small opening between each eating area. It is the first restaurant where I have eaten where the toilet décor is exactly the same as the front house treatment. If the food were in any way questionable this décor might appear somewhat banal but in reality the food and wine are so good and the fellow guests and indeed staff so friendly that the whole experience could be said to be a gastronomic delight. The secret of course lies in the fresh ingredients used and the attention to detail employed in cooking the food. After this fine dining experience I would prefer to eat the packaging than resort to precooked supermarket pizzas ever again.

While visiting Trapani my wife and I stayed for a few nights in the wonderfully named “I Colori del Vento”, kindly translated by the owner for us as the colour of the wind. This small B/B establishment is located facing directly onto the seafront on the edge of the Old Town itself. Thus it is readily accessible to the fine Baroque buildings nearby but is also right beside the ferry to the Egadi Islands and also to the busy fruit and fish market adjoining the old port. The rooms themselves are spacious and nicely decorated and there is also a lovely reception room accessible all day where snacks and coffee are available. A particular nice feature was the nice music playing in the reception area when we arrived. Thus we were serenaded by Diana Krall and Cat Stevens at various times during our stay. I also feel that the music of Melody Gardot would find a true echo in this lovely place. In fact I was so impressed by the B/B name that I looked it up in Irish on my return. The nearest translation would be ‘Dathanna na Gaoithe’ I think. However, while the sound of the spoken Irish translation has a nice ring to it, I feel the original Italian one, I Colori del Vento’ really sings to you. Like the guesthouse itself it has a special resonance. Thus, if I was asked to choose a colour which best summed up our visit to Trapani I would have to refer to the title track from Donovan’s 1967 music album. It was aptly called ‘Mellow Yellow’ and that exactly summed up our holiday experience in the sun of Trapani despite temperatures reaching in excess of 37 degrees at times. Thanks to all concerned for making our Trapani break so special.

Friday, August 5, 2011

An Irish Twitter President for every Man in the Tweet!

As you may know in Ireland the election race for the Aras* is now in full swing
But in betting on the candidates yet declared there is surely not any sure thing
So when I was recently reflecting on the nature of the policies, pundits and refrains
I could not but wonder if they really had any relevance to social media domains.

Poor old Davis Norris had to retire from the fray because of an inappropriate letter
But had he simply tweeted his views on the web he might have done a lot better
And now it is rumoured that Dana, Rosemary Scanlon, has cast her hat into the ring
But in society circles voting again for ‘all kinds of everything’ is hardly the done thing.

In the political sphere Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael seems to think the election is in the bag
But what of Michael D of Labour whose verbal eloquence has never been known to lag
Still I can’t help feeling that the ambition of many politicians owes more to ego or vanity
Not to mention the odd perk and a degree of high expenses that many regard as insanity.

In truth most young people are bored by the presidency and so we must make amends
If its role is to impinge positively on the quality of their lives or that of their friends
So what better place to find a new outlet for the President but on a social media forum
Where he/she could choose from Twitter or even Facebook without loosing decorum.

I would go even further by suggesting that the President be elected only by Twitter vote
And could then genuinely lay claim to the support of tweeters and many bleaters of note
The cost of the institution could be reduced and foreign travel would be greatly curtailed
As the President in web mode using access by tweet would be seen not to have failed.

But is this in itself really an adequately radical approach or do we new a new creation
For when all is said and done perhaps the answer best lies in the field of Pixar animation
After all do we need an actual human person in the role and so I exclaim what the heck
Couldn’t we simply draw up a new superman hero along the lines popularised by Shrek

I realise that this might prove a slight problem for Miriam O’C on her Saturday show
But we know she has had her fair share of Monsters and Aliens on previously, so let it go.
Our new President could adopt a name like SuperPres, Perkman or even Lark in the Park
And so you see that the options are endless but without Twitter the choices are stark.

But even the best animated character needs a distinct voice over artist to seal his fame
And I’m glad to relate here that I am reluctantly out of sense of duty up for the game
So if you in future choose to tweet your vote of approval to this humble Irish resident
Just curtsy at first to this newly created superhero and call me for know Mr President.

So lighten up friend, while this new animated character provokes a merry Twitter dance,
And please all you traditionalists, don’t just carp and adopt a too rigid judgemental stance
For Twitter experience has leads me to assert one crucial thing about any subject matter
That social media trivia is to some as fine as Alice in Wonderland or even the Mad Hatter

Note:*Aras refers to the current home residence of the Irish President in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

This is a purely fictional verse written for amusement only.