Friday, January 3, 2014

Salty {The Nubia Salt Flats} Sicily

My favorite ingredient, my favorite element, my favorite addition to the top of bread, the crust of meat, the crunch of granola and the rim of a margarita glass - it's salt!

A precious commodity, difficult to come by, worth more than gold and silver, it was (and still is) a building block we rely on for health, well being, and, let's face it, taste. Of course it was used as a preservative, before preservatives were lab created, but more importantly it was a most valuable form of payment (I recall a tour in Venice that told of the Venetians being the first to pay with salt, and thus the origin of the word "salary" - I never validated this, but it stuck!). Wiki claims Salt created and destroyed empires. And I believe it. I'd kill someone if I didn't have salt for my food ; )

One of the more fascinating parts of Sicily was a trip to the Salt Flats, starting with a private tour of the Nubia Salt Museum, between Trapani and Marsala. Here stands a 300 year old re-purposed salt working house that also is a restaurant and is, like most of what remains of the salt flats here, owned by one family. The grandson of this line gave Aaron and I the tour and he was incredible. And incredibly handsome ; ) (think Brendan Fraser, only Italian! but shhh, don't tell Aaron). He gave us a fascinating background on salt in Trapani, the importance of it, and the value of it as it used to be versus how cheap it is now. He mentioned how marketing has played a part in the dissolution of salt as a major export in Sicily (ie Mediterranean Sea Salt from France is the same grade sea salt as from Trapani, and yet sells at a higher price. He even went so far as to say, loyally, that the Sicilian salt is better!). And he spoke of family values and his inheritance being the museum and his job being to run the museum and the restaurant.

Seeing the piles of salt near the water, hearing about the process, and seeing how ecologically the area and the people are affected by the reaping of the salt made me appreciate it all the more. Windmills do as they've always done, the salinity of the water creates the perfect starting point, the fish come and go in the water, and the fisherman fish the fish. The winds across Trapani blow endlessly and help the water evaporate and crystallize. It's the circle of life. It's the circle of salt. And it was pretty cool.

inside the salt museum!

that flamingos that feast on the algae in the water.

one of the hotels near the salt flats - truly Mediterranean!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Crypts and Cathedrals {Palermo} Sicily

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G.K. Chesterton

Within the heart of Sicily's capital city of Palermo there lies a treasure trove of antique stores, creepy crypts and cathedrals centuries older than our oldest structures in the US. The jammed city streets, laundry hanging from every balcony, and horse and buggies competing for right of way on narrow roads that went from five lane to one without rhyme or reason, created a sense of crowd and chaos that I hadn't yet experienced in Sicily. It was hustle and bustle but all centered around marbled piazzas and holy structures that reached stories above the pedestrian walkways to create silhouettes against the sky. Aaron's most-excellent driving skills got us through the melee. If it had been me behind the wheel, I would have turned around after the first horse and buggy sped my way.

The crowning jewel of the day was truly the late lunch we had at Osteria dei Vespri on the Piazza Croce dei Vespri, a "foodie" recommendation by Fodor's guide that we hustled to find, lest they were closing for "siesta" as most restaurants and shops do in Sicily. And boy was it worth it! I had thus far been dealt only so-so meals set against my quite high expectations, but this place met and exceeded those. Delicate hand-crafted ravioli and crusty bread better than I'd had yet. House red wine set on carafes at every table. Red checked tablecloths that should have been cheesy and cliche but instead were perfect enveloped by the warm smells of garlic and the murmur of Italian conversation. We each chose the three course, though he went for antipasti, pasta and dessert and I went for pasta, main and dessert. The pasta was the point, though, and I could have eaten my fill on that. Dessert was warm pastries filled with a creamy, sweet ricotta and dusted with powdered sugar. Delizioso!

Cattedrale di Palermo

every cathedral had a nativity scene, reminding me that it was, indeed, Christmas.


the crypts below Cattedrale di Palermo


this church of no name (that I could find) was almost pitch black inside. But if it had been better lit, oh the ceiling art that would have been revealed!

A manger scene just waiting for the Baby Jesus. 

Osteria dei Vespri in the Piazza Croce dei Vespri

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sweet Wines and Sunsets {Marsala} Sicily

Marsala was an adventure, and one that I almost turned my back on. An hour or more drive down the coast, a beautiful drive I might add, landed my companion and me in the middle of the pedestrian walkway of a very busy city. While still in the car. But, in Sicily, it turns out this is very normal. You just try not to drive over the pedestrians as they zig and zag between you and the car in front, and you try not to scrape the walls rising unnervingly on either side of you, and you try not to get sandwiched between two crazy moped drivers vying for the right of way, and you also try not to hit the horse and buggy that wants to cross your path at 20 km/h (oh wait, that was Palermo). All in all it was very relaxing ; )

Unfortunately, after spending about 10 minutes in the city, we weren't feeling the vibe, so we opted out and headed just a bit out of town to the wineries, which sadly (discovered upon arrival) did not open for another 4 hours. Plan C: We wandered for awhile, drove the coast road for awhile, and lunched on pasta and seafood and some of the best eggplant I've ever had. Ever. And somehow the hours disappeared. As they do when you're on Sicilian time.

When we made it back to the wineries, we chose Donnafugata, a small but tight affair! It ended up being just the two of us and the (thankfully) English speaking PR rep who gave the tour. And it was a tasty and informative way to spend an hour. As a winery, this one is moving away from "Marsala" and towards fine wines, so we got to taste a variety of blends, oaked and unoaked, whites and reds. And some amazing dessert wine!

And then, suddenly, it was the golden hour. The sun began to set and I spied a lighthouse in the distance. And it called to me. So for the last 40 minutes of sunlight, I played "Jackie-in-the-box" (it's how I think of myself when I get reeeaaallly excited about photography on the road - I pretty much jump in and out of a mostly stopped vehicle to take photos of whatever catches my fancy - in this case, anything touched by that warm, buttery end-of-day light). And it was amazing. Some of the best photos I took on the trip were here, of the abandoned fishing boats and neglected beacons.

รจ stato bellissimo

found on the wall of the winery

to market!

inside the city

the winery

The collection. You can actually purchase several of these here in the US. The one I bought and liked was the 5th from the left, a nice, light white called Lighea.

Marsala wine after lunch. A delicious way to wrap up the meal!

and then the sun sank into the sea...

not meant to be a seamless blend, this shows the skyline of Marsala.

I did absolutely no touch up work to these - straight out of the camera with that sky and that light. Love!!

could be Southern California. Could be Sicily.

one of my favorite images from the whole trip!!