Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vineyards, Mountains and Seascapes

Part 2 of my Adventures in Sicily will focus on the dramatically beautiful scenery of this Mediterranean island. Imagine mountains, mountains everywhere, dominated by the largest volcano in Europe – Mt. Etna. In between were hillsides dotted with sheep and spring wildflowers, rocky coastlines, sandy beaches, farms, endless vineyards, and groves of olive, almond, lemon and blood orange trees. (Photo at right shows an almond tree branch.) In the Trapani region, I got to see a combination manmade/Godmade wonder – the salt flats.

I’ll start with the seaside village of Cefalu and move southward. Notice the village’s rocky coast and gorgeous color of the water. At right, Cefalu’s lovely beach, with waterfront houses in the background.

Moving south, we go to Erice, the mountaintop village mentioned in the previous blog. A winding road led us to the Erice.

By the way, if you visit Sicily, aim for spring or autumn. Summer temps easily hover over a hundred degrees (sometimes nearing 120). Not pleasant conditions for exploring!

In Segesta, I took pics of the flora and fauna around the famous Temple of Segesta. The cactus seen here grows in abundance throughout Sicily, sometimes on the roofs of farm buildings!

Vineyards aplenty! In spring they look rather naked, having not yet emerged from winter hibernation. By fall these fields will be thick with leafy vines and heavy with grapes. Sicily’s fertile soil makes it one of the foremost areas for growing wine grapes.
Sheep! Gotta love ‘em! We had to stop our tour van as a shepherd lead his flock across a country road.

I’ll conclude with this view of the Ionian Sea, taken from the Greek Theater in Taormina. More about the Greek Theater and Taormina in my final Sicily post, along with Mt. Etna, the salt flats and the Valley of Temples.

Today’s recipe:
This traditional and delectable Sicilian dessert consists of a crispy pastry shell filled with sweetened ricotta cheese. The ends are often dipped in crushed pistachios or shaved chocolate. In Sicily, the shells are usually displayed empty on bakery shelves, then filled upon request. The Palermo bakery in the photo at right was an exception.
You can make your own shells, but it’s a lot easier to buy them at an Italian bakery and use the following recipe to fill them.
Cannoli Filling

2 pounds of drained ricotta cheese
1 ½ cup of confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all the ingredients together until well blended and smooth. Fill a piping bag with the filling. Pipe each shell full with the filling. For extra flavor, dip each end of the cannoli into crushed pistachio nuts or shaved semi-sweet chocolate. Dust with powdered sugar.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sunny Sicily and Book Winner

Just returned from an amazing week in Sicily with my sister, Patt, where breathtaking beauty, both natural and manmade, filled my busy days. Before I launch into Sicily, however; I want to thank everyone who stopped by to read Patti Lacy’s interview.

The winner of Patti’s recent release, The Rhythm of Secrets, is ANN LEE MILLER.

Congratulations, Ann! Please send me your snail mail address at

Back to the trip. As the plane descended, an island of mountains rose from the sea. Finally, all the books and Google images were about to become reality. The first couple of days were spent in Palermo, Sicily’s capital, where everyone drives teeny cars or motorcycles inches apart from each other, miraculously avoiding accidents. Traffic signs are viewed as mere suggestions. Note to self: never, ever drive in Palermo. For this reason and many others, I was happy to have a tour guide, and happier still that our group numbered only six.

Our hotel faced an apartment building from which laundry hung from every banister, just like you’d imagine. Couldn’t resist snapping a few shots.

While staying in Palermo, we visited two cathedrals in the Monreale area, built by the Normans who conquered Sicily when it was occupied by the Greeks. The Greeks had built enormous temples to their gods, which the Christian Normans destroyed. The used some of the pillars and other parts to build churches, decorated with magnificent mosaics and statues. Walking into these cathedrals filled me with awe and a sense of peace. Photos could never truly reflect the wonder of these masterpieces.

Our first lunch on our own served as an interesting lesson in Sicilian dining. On the plus side: meals are beyond delicious, made with fresh ingredients, colorful, masterfully seasoned. Desserts: Mama Mia! Creative and vibrant, rich with ricotta, mascarpone, almonds, pistachios and fruit, often artfully decorated with marzipan. Wonderfully decadent! On the flip side, you are charged a sitting fee (usually $2 or $3 per person, depending on the location) and always charged for water, which is room temperature. Waiters tend to leave you alone once the meal is served, so if you need anything….oh well.

If you visit Sicily, don’t miss a visit to Erice, a mountaintop village with an amazing view of the coast and a castle dedicated to Venus, as well as a lovely church. Narrow winding streets are lined with artsy shops selling ceramics, souvenirs and more. A quaint square (piazza) is surrounded by caf├ęs and pastry shops with tempting cannoli shells waiting to be filled upon request. A visit to Erice transports you to another world, another time. Put it on your bucket list.
That’s probably enough on Sicily for one post. Stay tuned for a few more sights, tastes and photos, along with a recipe, next week.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Women's Secrets Unveiled

Before I head off to Sicily, I'd like to introduce you to my great friend and mentor -- one of God's amazing blessings in my life! (Stay tuned for Sicily pics in 10 days.)

Got a secret? Who doesn’t? Author Patti Lacy knows us women have pretty interesting stories tucked away in our pasts. And some, as she has found, make great novels…with a little embellishment, of course.


Patti launched her writing career with a trip to Ireland to research a friend’s story. The result? An Irishwoman’s Tale, released in 2008. Next it was on to Louisiana, a trip that produced What the Bayou Saw. She travelled to China for Reclaiming Lily, to be released in October. But let’s talk about the here and now. Patti’s newest title, The Rhythm of Secrets, was released in January. Look for my review of this excellent read coming soon to In the meantime, here's a synopsis:

Sheila Franklin has masqueraded as the precocious daughter of avant-garde parents in colorful 1940s New Orleans, a teen desperate for love and acceptance, and an unwed mother sent North with her shame. After marrying Edward, Sheila artfully masks her secrets, allowing Edward to gain prominence as a conservative pastor. When one phone call from a disillusioned Vietnam veteran destroys her cover, Sheila faces an impossible choice: save her son and his beloved…or imperil Edward’s ambitions. Inspired by a true story, THE RHYTHM OF SECRETS intermingles jazz, classical, and sacred music in a symphony trumpeting God’s grace.

Welcome Patti! First, I have to say I devoured The Rhythm of Secrets from cover to cover and loved every word. What did you do and where did you go to research this one?

Susan, I spanned the world—through the real-life story of Sandy Sperrazza, which I read in the Chicago Tribune. Then I let my fingers do the dialing—God got me in touch with octogenarian N’Awlins gardeners, a fireman, a tour guide—all kinds of folks chipped in on this one. Did I mention doctors? Nurses? Car aficionados? My coup de grace came when a local ISU professor, of Thai birth, plopped himself into my story and practically coauthored the chapters set over in Southeast Asia. Susan, it really does, at least in my case, take a village to support an author! You can just glance at my acknowledgments and see what I’m talkin’ about!

Here’s something I’ve always wanted to know about a Patti Lacy book: How much fact vs. fiction? And how do you decide?

The story just kinda writes itself. I start with that snippet of a story that captures my mind—in this case a mother, holding her baby just that one time—for the length of a cab ride—and see if I can fit other “narratives,” either from other real-life people, from my own past, or just little floating gray brain imaginations! What kind of feedback have you received from the women whose stories you’ve told? They all still talk to me!!!! Actually, at least two of them would rather not read the books. Isn’t that kinda weird? They say the memories are just too painful.

Can we get a sneak peek at the plot of Reclaiming Lily?

Two women. Two cultures. One child. When a deadly disease strikes the Wang family, Harvard graduate Dr. Kai Chang must alert Lily, the sister Kai left on orphanage steps nine years earlier. Standing in her way is Gloria Powell, a Fort Worth pastor's wife who distrusts Kai and thinks her entry into Lily's life will send the troubled seventeen-year-old over the precipice of teenaged angst. A Texas-sized tornado whirls about the meeting place of the Changs and Powells as tempers and cultures collide. Can Kai, Gloria, and Joy reconcile their differences, surrender their dreams, and allow God to implement a plan that provides supernatural, unbelievable joy?

What’s next on the Patti Lacy horizon?

I’m working on a series set in my home town, Normal, Illinois, the first book tentatively titled Below Normal. A church friend inspired my fifth and sixth books. Stay tuned for more!

Do you have a Thai recipe to share with Taste the World readers?

Can you believe that the day I’m working on these questions, we are going to Thai House, which we consider one of Bloomington-Normal’s best restaurants. I LOVE their papaya salad, their soups—really, all of their dishes. We eat family style and share good eats so at least three or four tastes whet our appetites for exotic and tasty! If you’re a novice in the world of Thai cuisine, start off with Pad Thai. You CANNOT go wrong. Pad Thai can be made vegetarian, with chicken, or with shrimp. We like shrimp best!


Prep Time: 30 minutes -- SERVES 4


16 oz. Thai rice noodles (linguini width)

2 cups raw or cooked shrimp, shells removed

2 shallots (OR 1/2 cup purple onion), finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 fresh red chilies (or as much as you like!), finely sliced

1 egg

2 cups bean sprouts

1/4 tsp. ground white pepper (OR substitute black pepper)

6 green onions, sliced finely

1/2 cup fresh coriander/cilantro

1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts, ground or chopped

2-3 Tbsp. oil for stir-frying (coconut, peanut, corn, sunflower, or canola are all good)

3 Tbsp. chicken stock

Wedges of lime for serving

PAD THAI SAUCE: 2 Tbsp. tamarind paste (available at Asian/Indian food stores) · 1/2 cup hot water · 4 Tbsp. fish sauce (available in tall bottles at Asian food stores) · 1-3 tsp. chili sauce (to taste), OR 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried crushed chili · 3 Tbsp. palm sugar OR brown sugar

Preparation: 1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, then remove from heat. Dunk in the rice noodles. Soak the noodles until soft enough to eat, but still firm and a little "crunchy". Drain and rinse the noodles thoroughly with cold water. Set aside. Tip:Avoid over-softening the noodles at this point, as they will be fried later, and you want them to turn out chewy, not soggy. 2. In a small bowl or cup, dissolve the tamarind paste in the hot water. Then add the other Pad Thai Sauce ingredients (fish sauce, chili, and brown sugar). Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add as much or as little chili sauce as you prefer, but don't skimp on the sugar - it is needed to balance out the sourness of the tamarind. Set aside. 3. Warm a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tbsp. oil and swirl around, then add the shallots, garlic, and chili. Stir-fry 1 minute. 4. Add the shrimp plus 2-3 Tbsp. chicken stock. Stir-fry 2-3 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and plump. (If using cooked shrimp, only stir-fry 1 minute.) 5. Push ingredients aside, making room in the center of your wok/pan. Add another 1 Tbsp. oil, then crack in the egg. Stir-fry to scramble (30 seconds to 1 minute). 6. Add the drained noodles and drizzle over the pad thai sauce. Use 2 utensils and a gentle "tossing" motion to combine everything together (like tossing a salad). Keep the heat between medium and medium-high - you want your pan hot enough to cook the noodles, but not so hot that the noodles burns. Stir-fry 4-5 minutes. 7. Add the bean sprouts and continue stir-frying 1 more minute, or until noodles are chewy-delicious and a little bit sticky. 8. Remove from heat and taste-test, adding more fish sauce until desired taste is achieved (I usually add another 1-2 Tbsp). 9. Sprinkle over the white pepper, onion, coriander, and peanuts, and garnish with lime wedges (these should be squeezed over before eating). Toss one more time and serve. Thai chili sauce can also be served on the side if desired. ENJOY!