Mother’s Day in France, Art in Ispra, Lake Maggiore, Food in Sicily

May 14, 2012
I flew to France to visit my mother as usual in the Loire Valley to celebrate Mother’s Day. And as good French people do, we went to a beautiful restaurant in the countryside with a view of the Loire River. We went with old friends who were a little bit grumpy at the beginning because it was not their favorite restaurant. But after a few glasses of very good Vouvray, everything was bright and cheery.

My trip continued to Ispra, Italy where I visited my friends Elena and Paolo. Paolo is a young painter and Elena is his mentor and creates marvelous opportunities for him to show his artwork.

Then I flew to Sicily where I was learning how to make sheep cheese and visiting different Slow Food restaurants. I ate at a nice charming outdoor trattoria called Metro. Try the swordfish carpaccio or codà la Metro. Trust the owner for the selection of wine.

Sicily is a dream; it is paradise. I stayed in Acitrezza with friends of mine, Antonio and Grazia. They treated me to a classic Sicilian breakfast of lemon gelato and brioche. And I tasted the Sicilian pizza. Scacciata is made with local cheese called tuma and anchovies or it can be with potatoes, sausages, broccoli, and tomato sauce. It is always covered again by more dough brushed with an egg white. But in Zafferana it is a fried calzone with cheese, anchovies, and mushrooms.
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There is a little train that goes around the volcano Etna, which is calm these days. There were no puffs of ashes. But do not count on the train to have an accurate schedule. (Neither can you count on the volcano to warn you when it will spew hot lava!) If you have all the time in the world and want to enjoy Sicily in slow pace, take the train. It may take a long time, but you meet a lot of local people.
I recommend Salvo and Antonella from the B&B Sotto Il Vulcano in Nicolosi. He is a terrific mountain guide and she is a friendly hostess.

For people with children I recommend La Casa del Iaghetto. It has a small zoo made up of all the animals that eventually end up on your plate- chicken, sheep, and goats. They make their own ricotta, jam, and pasta. I ended up helping the lady who was serving 50 children a nice lunch.
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In Santa Venerina I discovered an elegant azienda called Azienda Agricola del Murgo. I had a copious lunch of superb antipasti, calamari, an assortment of grilled meat, tasty sweet tomato salad, and the famous gelato. The azienda is officially called Azienda Agricola Emanuele Scanmacca del Murgo. The father was an ambassador of Italy to the United States. He is a Sicilian and his wife is from Florence. She joined me for lunch and we had a long conversation and she praised the United States. I ended up being there every day for dinner as a guest with the whole family, with the best wine from their vineyards. To thank them for their generosity, I offered to make chocolate mousse, which made the father very happy. His son declared that he made an excellent chocolate mousse himself and he wanted to compete with me in a duel! Which took place the following day. Unfortunately for him, he was extremely pressed with time and he messed up the recipe. But we are ready for another fight.

La Roca de la Rosa is a beautiful country manor with thick stonewalls, huge windows and balconies, backstairs winding up to the roof with a full terrace with a view of the cherry orchards. Maria is the daughter and she is in charge of the place where you can have a spacious room that is 2 storied high with a huge old wooden wine press sitting in the middle of the lower room without really taking up any space! I recommend it highly both for the hospitality and the freshness of the food. The mother is the cook at times and a teacher down in the village. She is too from Florence, and her husband is Sicilian.
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