Mini-break in Sicily – Day 4 – Mount Etna!

My short mini-break ended with a bang – in more ways than one.

First of all, we had planned this day to be the climax of the trip. We had booked a Jeep ride up Mount Etna, and were very fortunate in that, even though generally such a tour caters for 6-8 people, since it was December there wasn’t a high demand at this time of year, and the private tour was just that – private, meaning that we were to be the only two people with the guide!

That was very fortunate considering the fact that in the middle of the night, I had woken up suffering from sciatica. My back was really killing me and I had seriously thought about not going up Mount Etna at all. My condition was so chronic that my whole left side, starting from my lower back down to my left leg, was totally frozen and very painful. I could hardly walk. Which is why being alone with the guide helped a lot, as he could keep a slower pace, while also helping my boyfriend aid me walk.

As you’ve probably realized, even though I was feeling awful, I still went up the mountain! I couldn’t miss such an opportunity which might never come again!

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After we met our guide and explained my situation, we started driving up the mountain while we joked, talked, and learned about it’s history and volcanic formation. There have been various eruptions and lava flows, which created a multitude of craters, caves and rock formations over the years all around Mount Etna. In fact, on the way we stopped to admire just such a crater. The red soil, which once had been lava, was truly beautiful. The colors deepened and changed depending on how many years had gone by since the eruption. I did not know this, but the guide told us that even though during the first few years, the earth where lava flowed was arid, afterwards it actually became more fertile than normal and it led to the cultivation of certain plants and trees, which were very special. If, for example, one was to plant fruit trees, these would produce fruits much redder in color than usual, and with a particularly strong flavor and taste. There was quite a market for this kind of produce.

Afterwards, we continued our journey up Mount Etna. I could actually see the fuming craters even from far off, and I was so excited as they kept getting closer and closer! The weather was quite warm and the sun was shining, it was all so amazing and I was really glad I hadn’t cancelled the trip, even though my pain did not abate during it.

At last, we arrived at the visitor’s center which is almost at the top of the Mountain. We stopped and walked around, that is, I tried to walk while leaning on my boyfriend. The panoramic views were more than worth the pain!! I found out that our guide was also quite a spiritual person, in that he believed in the pull of the earth and that certain points of the land are special, which I do too. Mother Earth is truly a force to be reckoned with.

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We also went down into a cave which had been naturally formed and excavated with the passage of the lava-flow. There are many like it around the volcano.

Lastly, the guide took us for a short walk on the other side of the mountain, through a dense and beautiful forest that had sprung up in the wake of the oldest eruption. We had to climb up some rough terrain, which was not easy for me without the use of my left leg, however I had the help of two strong burly men (my bf and the guide), so I managed wonderfully. Again, the panoramic views of the other side of the mountain, and the small villages and towns of Sicily which one could admire in the distance, were more than worth it.

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In the evening, we went to eat at, I admit, one of the tastier and most delicious places I’ve been to in my life. This was an agritourism – a farm where they served very fresh, traditional and typical food of the region, all of it produced and cultivated by the family who took care of the restaurant themselves!

I am just so in love with Sicilian food! In my opinion it is the best cuisine in the world! And the portions… phew!!!

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P.S My sciatica did not get any better by the way. When we got back home, I had to take a week off sick from work and stay in bed for days before I could walk without wincing.

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Recipe for a Tasty Maltese Lunch!

FINALLY the weekend is over. I seriously never thought I’d say that. Usually people look forward to the weekend – however this time by Saturday afternoon, I was already looking forward to this particular weekend’s ending. Not gonna go into details – suffice it to say that it is true that bad things come in threes, except that, for me, this time they came in fours… lol

The most I can say for this weekend is that I watched a couple of good horror movies with my bf, and that I cooked some tasty food. So, instead of glossing and agonizing over the details of my unfortunate series of events, I’m going to focus on what I cooked for Sunday lunch.

This is a ‘torta tal-irkotta‘ in Maltese, that is, a Ricotta Pie. I just love ricotta, and hadn’t cooked such a pie in a while.

Here’s my own personal recipe:

Ingredients

1.5kgs fresh ricotta
dough (this can be either home-made or ready-made)
bacon
peas
2/3 eggs
grated cheese
garlic granules
margarine
salt

Method

As you can see, I’m going to omit the making of the pie-crust and just focus on the making of the pie itself.

1. Take the margarine and cook it in a small pan. When it’s done cook the bacon.

2. With the rest of the margarine, smear the borders and all crevices of a large round pie-pan. Open half the dough and place it to form the lower part of the pie-crust.

3. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, cooked bacon, eggs, grated cheese, garlic and salt to taste. Make sure to mix them thoroughly.

4. Pour the mixture into the open pie-crust and place the other half on top making sure to cover all the mixture.

5. IMPORTANT – Use a fork to puncture the pie-crust in order for the mixture to breathe. This will prevent the dough from inflating due to the eggs.

6. Leave in an oven at medium to high temperature. It will take approximately an hour for the pie to bake to a lovely golden brown.

Enjoy!

The Kitchen Witch – Samhain/Halloween Recipe

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Being kind of stressed and busy cause of the new house and stuff (still unpacking slowly), I did not buy a pumpkin for Samhain this year (SHAME), ergo I couldn’t prepare any pumpkin-based recipes for the occasion. However knowing that another very important food for Samhain were oranges, I cooked an orange-based meal instead.

I was very lucky in that a book I had bought only 4 days before, arrived by post just the day before Halloween, so I could also break-in my kitchen for its first Halloween by using it. The book is called ‘Kitchen Witchery’ by Soraya, and I simply love it. It’s just what I need. I’m so tired of these ‘beginners’ books’ with their ‘ways of celebrating the Sabbats’ and tables of correspondences! I don’t need them and at this point I’m definitely NOT a beginner anymore. Haven’t been that for ten years lol. Anyways, the book has a brief introduction by Soraya, and that’s it – then you have all these delicious RECIPES, togather with some info about essences, oils and incense.

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The actual recipe I prepared for Samhain was not exactly found in the book, but it was inspired by it. I took Soraya’s own recipe and changed it, making it my own. After all – that’s the fun of cooking! So – here it is!

Chicken Thighs with Oranges 

Ingredients:
6 Chicken thighs
2 large onions
500g baby carrots
3 large oranges
1ltr orange juice
sunflower oil
water
Thyme
Mint
Whole cloves
Garlic powder
Salt

Method:

Dice the onions and disperse in a large baking pan. Put in the carrots and the defrosted chicken thighs. Sprinkle garlic powder to taste. Submerge the chicken in 2/3 orange juice to 1/3 water. Drizzle the sunflower oil at the top. Sprinkle the thyme, mint and salt. Start pre-heating the oven. Take the oranges and peel them. Take the rind of one orange, chop very finely and sprinkle around the pan. Do the same with the whole cloves. Divide the oranges into slices and position them between the chicken thighs. Put the pan in the oven and leave for around an hour and a half or until the chicken is crisped.

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I also prepared mashed potatoes with milk and butter to be eaten with the chicken.

Enjoy!

Dear Maltese Local Councils, why are you so Ridiculous?

Yesterday, I wrote a post relating my participation to Medieval Mdina last weekend https://ddmoonsong.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/medieval-mdina-2015-fun-vs-stress-2/

What I did not mention, was that while in Mdina, the Medieval Festival was taking place, two other localities in Malta were ‘competing’ with the Mdina Local Council in attracting the crowd by offering two other ‘festivals’. Mgarr was celebrating ‘Festa Frawli‘, which basically promotes strawberries as a local produce. In a couple of weeks there will also be ‘Festa Mqaret‘ – mqaret are a kind of Maltese sweet fried biscuit.

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Also last weekend Hal Qormi were hosting ‘Festa Nutella‘, which, on the other hand, is most notably NOT a local produce, since in fact it is produced in Italy.

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I get it – every product imaginable is an excuse to invent some kind of ‘festival’ or ‘festa’ (in Maltese) to promote it and make money, but sometimes too much is TOO MUCH.

This morning I saw another local council, this time ‘Festa Bruschetta‘ was being promoted. Seriously? We all know and love the so-called ‘kisra hobz biz zejt‘ which is totally Maltese (this consists basically of freshly baked Maltese bread with tomato paste, olive oil, tomatoes, capers, pepper, salt, and spices to taste), however as such the ‘bruschetta’ can be found almost anywhere in Europe, so what is all the hype about?

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Throughout the year, I remember also the Festa tal-Qargha Hamra (Pumpkin Festival), Casal Fornaro (Bread Festival), and the chocolate festival (ok we definitely did not ‘invent’ chocolate… or did we?)

Seriously WE GET IT. MALTESE PEOPLE LIKE TO EAT!

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However while I am one of those persons who love to say that any excuse is good to party, I must also admit that at this point, local councils are just showing how desperate they are to make a little bit of extra money. What next? A Peanut butter revival? (Peanut butter is most definitely not a Maltese product, in fact most Maltese never even tasted it). A Treacle Pudding Feast? (this is a British dessert) A ‘Minestrone alla Genovese‘ Festa (this is obviously Italian, but then again, so is Nutella).

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Please dear Local Councils, why don’t you stick to original Maltese products and food instead of trying to make up new ways of lining your pockets? Ways which actually, don’t even make any sense! If the idea is to promote Malta, its traditional way of life and its traditions STICK TO MALTA! Don’t steal other countries’ products and try to pass them off as yours! So Nutella was ‘invented’ in Qormi? Sure it was! Pft!

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A Health Diet which works! Finally!

Almost four weeks ago, I started dieting. It is a healthy diet, unlike the fads I followed when I was younger. What’s more, it genuinely seems to be working, since I lost 4kgs in almost 4 weeks.

Yay me!

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To be honest, I’ve never been so chubby in my whole life. A little bit over two years ago, I finally rented a place of my own, and it was then that I started to get sloppy. I watched my bf eat huge quantities of food, and that sparked on my own appetite… and here we are. Two years and almost 10 kilos later, I was totally FED UP with myself. And I just decided to stop.

Stop eating shit, stop ‘comforting’ myself with food through spells of bad moods (of which I have many), stop giving myself treats, stop eating big portions. Right now, I’m following a fairly simple regime. I eat 100g of proteins (either fish or chicken breast) togather with some carbohydrates, like a wrap or pitta bread, every three hours. The portions are VERY small. I do not eat bread, salami, dairy-food or pasta. I do not eat sweets or snacks. I do not eat any carbs after 6pm (mostly I have a solo piece of chicken or some soup after 6).

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It’s tough. I am very hungry at night, and I’m sleeping earlier to try and forget that. Most of all, I’m getting really sick of chicken breast. And I mean literally sick. To my stomach. Even the smell makes me wants to throw up.

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But here’s the rub – it’s working! 4kgs gone, 6kgs more to go. If I can keep this up for another month and a half, I’ll be right back where I want to be… oh la Dolce Vita – I’ll be able to really enjoy Summer lolling at the beach and strolling half naked everywhere – that is, if I manage to regain my figure.

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So, fingers crossed and teeth clenched! Let’s diet!

Recipe – Baked Rice with Bacon and Sweet Paprika

Being currently on a diet (which is working by the way), I was trying to cook some filling and nutritious food which would last a couple of days, since my new regime is to eat small portions, every three or four hours. So, yesterday I did this recipe, which I had never done before, though I had a previous idea on how to prepare. It is quite simple really, and the results are quite good too! I was not going to post anything online, this not being that kind of blog, however some friends saw the result yesterday and urged me to share it – so here it is 🙂

P.S As you can see from the pic, the ingredients produce a very big dish, which serves at least 8 people.

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Ingredients

700g rice
1.5 ltr tomato sauce
500g minced beef
250g bacon
100g baby carrots
1 small onion
sweet paprika to taste
salt
baking paper
water
3/4 eggs

Method

Boil the water and add the rice. Leave until cooked and then filter the water.

Chop and cook the onion slowly in a large saucepan, then add the mince beef and bacon. Stir well until they are semi-well-done, Add the tomato sauce and the carrots (diced) and leave it cooking slowly on a small flame, while stirring on and off for five to ten minutes. Add the sweet paprika and some salt and leave it for another five minutes.

Pre-heat the oven at medium heat.

Pour half of the cooked rice back into the pan where you had boiled it (minus the water of course), and beat three or four eggs and mix them in with the rice. Start adding the sauce while mixing it thoroughly. When half the mixture is evenly mixed, add the other half of the rice on top, and mix it with the remainder of the sauce.

Line a large baking dish with baking paper and pour in the mixture of rice + sauce. Spread it evenly. Put in oven and leave it until it has a nice brown-golden color.

Enjoy!! 😀

Another Joke presented by… THE MALTESE GOVERNMENT!! *sigh*

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This is hilarious, seriously, the Maltese government, no matter which political party is manning the post, is a total joke. I admit, they have their good moments, like finally opening up their eyes and realizing we now live in the 21st century and finally bring us to step with the rest of the world by ‘introducing’ divorce (yes divorce in Malta only became legal a couple of years ago), making same-sex marriages legal (last year), and providing a choice for children who wish to take another subject at school instead of one which promotes only the Christian religion, under the misleading title ‘religion’ (this is still in process).

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However, every silver lining is to be found in the middle of a very dense and smokey cloud… metaphorically speaking.

The latest joke is this – apparently a certain study showed that more of half of the over-70s in Malta are suffering from high blood pressure (most old people do – unfortunately it’s one of the ‘perks’ of getting old). One of the reasons for high-blood pressure is also a salty diet, that is, eating salty food.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150303/local/health-authorities-to-discuss-salt-content-reduction-in-maltese-bread.558236

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Since the problem is that middle-aged and senior citizens seem to disregard the fact that due to body changes which happen later in life, one’s physical synapses and metabolism change, and that therefore one cannot continue to eat the same foods one ate during one’s youth with impunity, the obvious solution here would be to educate the masses. Maybe provide free classes or other information in order to make people aware of the importance of a balanced diet.

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BUT NO – The Maltese government, in a funny twist of mind-numbing and mind-bending trapeze-scrambling, has decided that since old people eat a lot of bread, and this is ‘salty’, new laws stating that the percentage of salt used in dough should be written, in order for the bread one buys in shops to be ‘more healthy’… seriously… WTF?

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I love Maltese bread. It’s fresh and crunchy and really different from the bread I bought while I was in other countries lik Britain, Ireland, France and even Italy. There is no bread like Maltese bread – PLEASE LEAVE IT AS IT IS! THIS IS PURE STUPIDITY!!

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What’s wrong with you people??

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I have fallen in love with SOMEONE ELSE… in France!!

When one talks or thinks about France, one usually associates it with chic couture, smartly dressed divas sipping martinis under sun-protecting umbrellas, handsome men driving fast convertible cars, or high heels tapping moonlight-kissed pavements while inebriating red, white and rose wines are consumed by the bottle.

You think that this is what my one week long holiday in France (which I’m in the middle of right now) is all about?

LOL WRONG!!

All I packed were three changes of clothing, some underwear, and the usual hand-luggage-load of books, and the clothes consist mainly of two pairs of trousers, three long warm cardigans and one pair of very flat, very strong boots. Why? Because this is a CULTURE ie. CASTLE-oriented holiday – meaning days of walking, climbing, hurrying and walking even more, in order to see as many castles, cathedrals, museums, monuments, abbeys and ruins as possible. And if a couple of coffee shops or bars get thrown in randomly, fine, but the main aim is to actually enjoy the COUNTRY of France, meaning its rich history, culture and natural environment, NOT waste time in shopping, wine tasting, and wannabe snobbish pursuits (which i can do well enough in my own country anyways, thanks very much). Sure if i wanted to go sway my ass in St Tropez or the Cote d’Azure i could have, we are not that far away (only around an hour and a half by car), and my ass is not so bad either ;p But really, I’m not interested.

What interests me are the Cathar castles in the Languedoc area, which are around two and a half hours away, but worth the drive (not to mention the climb, since most of them are situated on rocky mountains, only accessible on foot – thank all the Gods for my good boots).

This morning, we visited the County of Orange, most notable for its HUGE Roman amphitheatre, one of the only three in the world which still has an intact stage wall. The place is magnificent, and photos truly don’t do it justice.

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Between visiting Orange and the next castle on our itinerary (this was the picturusque Chateau Grignan), we walked around a bit, and amidst the kisses and laughter, spotted one of the cutest little teashops i have ever seen in my life.

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We stopped for a strong coffee (in my bf’s case) and a ‘French’ hot choc + slice of lemon merengue + strawberry + blueberry cake = HEAVEN for moi.

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Seriously – O…M…G

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I’m in love 🙂

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Success! When expectations are fulfilled.

Yesterday’s recipe was a real success. Instead of carrots, which I didn’t have after all, I used mushrooms. And instead of oregano, I sprinkled loads of rosemary, sage and thyme, and it was all delicious.

Here’s a pic of the dish before I put in the potatoes, and after.

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And a photo of what it actually looked like after it came out of the over (and before we started to dig in!)


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mmmm nom nom nom

Oven Potatoes with Chicken Thighs

I don’t usually write down recipes, I follow my nose, not to mention that in my hectic day-to-day life, I really don’t have the time to cook elaborate stuff. HOWEVER finally tomorrow, I’m going to try cooking something I have never cooked before. So, pathetic as it may sound to some, I’m feeling a bit excited about it.

I’m going to prepare a traditional Maltese dish, only instead of using pork or the red meat which usually accompanies it, I’m using boned chicken thighs. I’m going to describe the process I will be following here, not bothering with quantities since I mostly consider that while I’m cooking.

Oven Potatoes with Chicken Thighs

Ingredients:

Chicken Thighs
Potatoes
Onions
Garlic
Olive Oil
Oregano
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
Curry Powder
Water
Carrots
Peas

Method:

Wash and peal the potatoes. Slice them thickly. Slice the onions and garlic and put these at the bottom of a big oven dish. Place the chicken thighs over them and semi-cover them with water and olive oil. Three parts water to one part olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper. Put the carrots and peas on the chicken thighs. Lastly, place the sliced potatoes over everything and at the sides, kind of like a blanket. Sprinkle the oregano, curry powder, salt and pepper over everything.

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Leave in the oven for around an hour.

When done, the chicken should be crispy and tasty, and the potatoes should be crunchy and full of flavor. Of course, one can vary the spices too 🙂

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Hope it comes out well tomorrow!! If it does, will post pics :0)

P.S I was in a quandary whether to place the potatoes at the bottom or at the top, since different people told me to do it differently, that’s why I’m so nervous about it perhaps.