Saturday, April 29, 2006

The War Cemeteries

Last week, Kendra and I again took the tenth-graders from our Integrated Honors World History/English class on a World War II fieldtrip to the British War Cemetery near the Catania airport, the German War Cemetery near Misterbianco, and then to the World War II museum in downtown Catania.

The cemeteries are immaculately maintained by the countries whose men are buried there, England and Germany, and visitors, flowers, flags, and notes still appear on graves at each site. Over two thousand men are buried in the British Cemetery, with its neat rows of matching white tombstones and personal inscribed messages on each beneath the rank, name, unit, and dates of birth and death. A few Norwegians, Australians, New Zealanders, and one Pole are sprinkled among the Englishmen. What struck our students most was the ages of the men, many of them just 18, 19, or 20 years old, not much older than they are now. They spent a good amount of time walking up and down the long rows, reading the stones and reflecting. It had just rained, so everything was sparkling clean.

Afterwards, we went to the German cemetery near Misterbianco. The style of the place was completely different. You wouldn't even notice it or know there was a cemetery there if you weren't seeking it. It's open to the sky but behind high red brick walls. Each "room" inside the walls is dedicated to the men who fell at the various locations--Catania, Messina, and Agira. Over four thousand five hundred men are buried here. Each room has their names, rank, and dates inscribed on huge marble tablets laid into the floors. So, the entire look is quite different. There is a very moving bronze sculpture of a fallen soldier that is reproduced in the museum downtown. For some reason, though, the students were not as interested in the Germany cemetery. I don't know if it was the fact that the Germans were our enemy, the stark design of the place, or the fact that we were on our way to McDonald's for lunch afterwards, but they definitely did not want to spend as much time there.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Steamed Artichokes, Sicilian Style

Thanks to my colleague and resident expert, Lynn, for this delicious addition to the artichoke saga!

Ciao Maryellen,

I, too just bought a "fascio" of carciofi. A group of things put together is a fascio!

I remember the first time my husband bought a fascio!! I was shocked . . . having no idea what to do with 24 artichokes, which is the normal number. I noticed a truck selling artichokes, and asked him to buy me "some". . . meaning about eight. Being a family of four, I figured I would steam them and have enough for two dinners. I asked him to go negotiate (no price was displayed) since even though I am fluent, I am immediately recognized as speaking with an accent and therefore not a local. He returned with this huge bundle of artichokes with their stems and leaves!! Usually when I buy them from my frutta and verdura vendor (the vegetable stand) they trim them down for me. Nevertheless, I became creative and utilized the largest number of artichokes I have even been presented with--making steamed carciofi (which I will give you the recipe for), pasta con carciofi, risotto con carciofi, frittata con carciofi!!

Here's the recipe for steamed artichokes, Sicilian style:

1. Cut off the stems, leaving about two inches (the part closest to the artichoke) . . . then cut this off and put aside. You will need to thinly trim off the outer layer to use along with the artichokes.
2. Wash and drain artichokes (gently open leaves, rinsing and then turn them upside down to drain, gently squeezing water out).
3. Cut garlic in tiny pieces. Open artichoke leaves and place a piece of garlic sporadically into the bottom of leaf. Do this to entire artichoke. You can also sprinkle in some fresh cut parsley.
4. Salt artichoke, again separating leaves so salt is spread around.
5. Utilize stems in the following way: Either slice them length-wise and put in bottom of large pot (pasta size) which has been drizzled with olive oil OR . . . slice into 1/4 inch wide/1 inch long pieces and fill in between artichoke leaves, so that every artichoke will have about 2-3 pieces of the stem inside.
6. Place artichokes stem part down in pot. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over each artichoke.
7. Fill bottom of pot with about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water, so that they will slowly simmer. Bring to a slow boil, then lower, cover and simmer. You will need to keep an eye on artichokes and water level, as it will be necessary to add water when it gets low so that artichokes do not burn and stick.

Cooking time is approx 45 minutes . . . artichokes are ready when stem area is tender when pricked with a fork.

Have a good day . . . ciao for now, Lynn

Monday, April 17, 2006

Artichoke Heaven

Three euros buys you 25+ artichokes at the moment here in Sicily. That's $3.60. From what my friend Susan tells me, that's close to the price of ONE artichoke in Atlanta! Anyway, she and I wanted just a couple artichokes and ended up with two giant bags of them when we stopped at a roadside vendor in Lentini.

I had never cooked one in my life, but recently I had them grilled at a restaurant, so I decided to try that. In the meanwhile, Susan boiled two of them for at least an hour and we ate them with a delicious dip. To make the grilled artichokes, I cut them in quarters and coated them with olive oil and seasoned salt. I put them on a hot charcoal grill for just five minutes per side, and voila! They were great! The next night, I cooked another half dozen or so and used them for supper and for Monday's salad. I still had at least fifteen left, so I took them to work and gave them to Kendra and Pat. Jeesh. It's akin to the zucchini problem in Illinois.

Supposedly, Sicily produces fifty percent of the world's artichokes. One town alone produces eleven percent! In Italian, they are called carciofi, and you'll find them on pizza, in pasta, and served as appetizers or side dishes. And they are deliziosi!

Friday, April 07, 2006

An Etna Tanka

Etna, our scion,
Everchanging light and life
Rising over us,
She bears us fruit and chestnuts,
Guardian of our Island.

My AVID students discussed tanka poems in their tutorial group and then wrote this one together. Tanka poems are written about nature, seasons, love, sadness and other strong emotions. Simply take a haiku (5-7-5), add two 7-syllable lines, and you have it.