Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Food & Wine Cocktails 2011 -- Stepping Razor Blade (Recipe and Links)




Stepping Razor Blade

Contributed by Richard Boccato  

SERVINGS: Makes 1 Drink

The Stepping Razor Blade fuses two old-time cocktails into one rum drink: the Holland Razor Blade (gin, lemon juice and cayenne pepper) and the Army & Navy (gin, lemon juice and orgeat).


    1. Ice
    2. 2 ounces Jamaican rum
    3. 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
    4. 1/2 ounce orgeat (almond-flavored syrup)
    5. Pinch of cayenne pepper, for garnish 


  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the rum, lemon juice and orgeat and shake well. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with the cayenne. 
Reader Note:  We spent part of Memorial Day weekend perusing the new Food & Wine Cocktails 2011 Guide, which came in the mail just as we were leaving for New York.  The Cocktail Guide's annual arrival is always a pleasant surprise.  Like all projects of this type, some editions are more successful than others, but the editors never fail to do their best to assemble a wide-ranging assortment of unusual and interesting recipes accompanied by an informative, well-written text and cool photos.  The glassware on display is always extremely beautiful, imaginative and (for us, at least) uplifting.  The crystal above are "Pythagore" champagne saucers in amber and clear by J.L. Coquet, Limoges, France, available in the US  from Devine Corporation (devinecorp.net).  Since Caroline, Jane and I were all taken with them, we may consider purchasing some Pythagore glasses as a "welcome summer" present.

        Interested readers will note that this year's new flavor seems to be elderflower.  This possible trend was on view (and experienced) over the weekend when we attended the garden party given by our friends Gerry and Susanne Howard to celebrate their beautiful new garden and fabulously transformed back yard, which now resembles a classical Chinese landscape in an ancient silk scroll painting.  The elderflower-flavored cocktail they offered was unlike anything I'd tasted before and was extremely delicious.  Someone mentioned that Susanne became familiar with elderflower drinks during a visit she and Gerry made to France earlier this year.

The other trend on view in the new F&W book is the practice of transforming traditional gin-based drinks into vodka or rum recipes, as is the case with this Stepping Razor.  Although  I can't be sure why this is (apart from the fact that food professionals like varying their game),  I assume it relates to the fact that most people (at least the ones I speak to)  say they don't like gin and it makes good commercial sense to adapt traditional recipes with well-known names to new materials.  I like gin.  Although it's never entirely  gone away, obviously, I'm sure it will be "back" as a flavor and an ingredient someday soon.  If you read enough volumes of the Food & Wine Cocktails guides or simply peruse any cooking magazines, that much is evident, always.To every food or drink thing, there seem to be an infinite number of rotating seasons.

        Inevitable musical accompaniment to this brief review must be, of course, Joe Higgs' immortal Stepping Razor, performed by:

1.  Peter Tosh (footage from Rockers)

2.  Joe Higgs

3.  The Wailers

European Black Elderflower

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ice Blink; Mahogany Flotsam (Captain Hatteras 2)

Charles W. Swithinbank, Ice Blink photograph, from Illustrated Glossary of Snow and Ice. Cambridge,  Scott Polar Research Institute, 1969.


Soon the flocks of birds, more and more numerous, petrels, puffins, and warblers, inhabitants of these desolate shores, showed they were nearing Greenland.  The Forward was heading north at speed, leaving to leeward a long trail of black smoke.

        At about eleven on Tuesday, 17 April, the ice-master reported the first sight of ice blink. [1]  It was at least twenty miles to the north-north-west .  Despite the very thick clouds, this strip of dazzling white brightly lit up the whole of the atmosphere near the horizon.  Experienced sailors on board could not mistake this phenomenon, recognizing from its whiteness that the blink had to come from a vast field of ice situated about thirty miles beyond the range of vision, being even produced by a reflection.

[1]   The remarkable, resplendent colour the air becomes when above a great extent of ice.

"Ice Blink",  photograph, Joanna Bury, 2005

Atlantic Puffin in Iceland


Attributed to William Hodges, R.A. (1744-97), Ice Islands with Ice Blink, 1773

“Hence, gentlemen, it must be agreed that America is completely detached from the polar landmasses and the waters of the Pacific move around its coasts and into the Atlantic.  Anyway the greater height of the waters of the Pacific is another confirmation that they flow toward the seas of Europe.”

         “But there must be facts supporting this theory, and if there are”, Shandon added with a certain irony, “our universal savant will surely know them.”  

Narwhal whales "tusking" in Arctic waters 

         “Upon my word”, replied the latter with pleasant  satisfaction, if it interests you, I will say that whales wounded in the Davis Strait were captured sometime later near Tartary with European harpoons in their flanks.” 

        “So, unless they rounded Cape Horn or Cape of Good Hope, they must necessarily have gone round the northern coast of America.  That’s indisputable, doctor.”

        “If, however, you were still not convinced, my good Shandon,”  said the doctor smiling, “I could produce further facts, such as the flotsam Davis Strait is full of, larches, aspens, and other tropical wood species.  Now we know that the Gulf Stream would prevent this wood from entering the strait, so when it comes out it can only have got in through the Bering Strait.”

Flotsam: Lifeboat from the Edmund Fitzgerald, 1976

         “I’m convinced, doctor, and I admit that it would be hard to remain a disbeliever with you around.”

           “Upon my word,” said Johnson, “abreast is a timely illustration of what we’re talking about.  I can see a piece of wood of fine size; if the commander allows we’ll go and fish out this tree-trunk, hoi it on board, and ask  it what country it hails from.”

"a piece of wood of fine size"

            “Good idea” said the doctor; “the example after the rule.”

               Shandon gave orders; the brig headed for the piece of wood and soon the crew had hauled it on deck, not without difficulty.

               It was a mahogany trunk, gnawed by worms to its very heart – otherwise it could not have floated.

Duke, the "Dog-Captain", moving the story forward

Herbert Ponting, Ice Grotto within ice-berg, 1911

Petrel chick

Black-cap warbler

Reader Note 1: Inevitable musical accompaniment is Iceblink Luck by Cocteau Twins

Reader Note 2:  Text excerpted from the marvelous  The Adventures of Captain Hatteras by Jules Verne (1864).  Translation with an Introduction and Notes by William Butcher.  New York, Oxford University Press, 2005.    For previous Captain Hatteras post, please see Here.

Reader Note 3:   Cause and effect explanation.  Steamy, fevering heat arrived in SE Pennsylvania several days ago when the air conditioning was broken (an icicle or sharp branch severed by the winter storms slashed a compressor wire) and seems already to have assumed its all-summer berth.   Although a/c systems are once again "go", for a number of reasons, including the differing internal thermostats of the residents of Signal Hill and their varying degrees of "influence", things are cooling down quite slowly here.  Reading The Adventures of Captain Hatteras chills and clears the air; this meteorological aspect of reading Verne's novel should be the subject of someone's book column somewhere or possibly (my favorite notion always) a one-act play.  I intend to explore William Hodges' career here in more detail in the future.  Things have been connecting up happily (I think) and unexpectedly of late.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Listen To The Mocking Bird

I’m dreaming now of Hally, sweet Hally, sweet Hally;
I’m dreaming now of Hally,
For the thought of her is one that never dies:
She’s sleeping in the valley, the valley, the valley;
She’s sleeping in the valley,
And the mocking bird singing where she lies.

Listen to the mocking bird, listen to the mocking bird,
The mocking bird still singing o'er her grave;
Listen to the mocking bird, listen to the mocking bird,
Still singing where the weeping willows wave.

Ah! well I yet remember, remember, remember,
Ah! well I yet remember,
When we gather’d in the cotton side by side;
’Twas in the mild September, September, September,
’Twas in the mild September,
And the mocking bird was singing far and wide.

Listen to the mocking bird, listen to the mocking bird,
The mocking bird still singing o'er her grave;
Listen to the mocking bird, listen to the mocking bird,
Still singing where the weeping willows wave.

Reader Note 1 (from Wikipedia): "Listen to the Mocking Bird" (1855) is an American folk song of the mid-19th century. The lyrics were by Septimus Winner, with the pseudonym "Alice Hawthorne", and the music was by Richard Milburn.  It is a mournful tale, with the singer dreaming of his sweetheart, who is dead and buried, with the mocking bird, whose song the couple once enjoyed, now singing over her grave. However, the melody is moderately lively. It was one of the most popular ballads of the 19th century and sold more than twenty million copies of sheet music.  It was popular during the American Civil War and was used as marching music. It was a particular favorite of  Abraham Lincoln , who said it was "as sincere as the laughter of a little girl at play."

Reader Note 2:  Now that a short spring seems finally to have arrived, we're spending more time outside in the early evenings, often adjourning to the terrace when work is done for a glass of wine and some pre-dinner conversation, early summing-up and planning for tomorrow.  A mocking bird there is our most proximate companion.  We often discuss, as is natural, what on earth it is the birds are saying?  As we do, never reaching any satisfactory, verifiable conclusion, the mocking bird checks in, repeats the evidence in his astonishing way and presumably states his own findings.  In every sense, he is both powerfully present and completely obscure.

Reader Note 3:  Mocking bird links in Yellow.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Beauty Will Be Convulsive: Leonora Carrington: (4.6.17 -- 5.25.05)

Leonora Carrington, Self-Portrait, 1937-38, Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Leonora Carrington, Self-Portrait, 1938, Photograph

"I didn't have time to be anyone's muse... I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist." --Leonora Carrington, 1983

"Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all"  -- Andre Breton, 1928 

Reader Note:  Those interested in Leonora Carrington may enjoy This.
Also This.
And  This.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ai Weiwei: Marble Arm

"A marble sculpture by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei entitled 'Marble Arm' is seen at ART HK 11, Asia's largest art fair, Hong Kong, China, 25 May 2011.  

        Ai Weiwei has not been seen since his detention by the Chinese authorities on 04 April 2011

Despite China's crackdown on the artist, the ART HK 11 is able to host galleries from around the world, some of whom are displaying his work under the 'one country, two systems' agreement which guarantees freedom of artistic expression in Hong Kong, under the city's mini-constitution, or 'Basic Law'. 

        ART HK 11 will run from 26-29 May 2011, and will host 260 galleries from 38 countries. EPA/ALEX HOFFORD."

For more Ai Weiwei, see HERE.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jell-O For Thought -- “The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope”

Tax dollars fund shrimp on treadmills, Jell-O wrestling in Antarctica

Report says federal research agency mismanaged $3 billion

[Reader Note:  During a break from strenuous efforts to make money during the current Depression today, I came across the following article.  

I thought of bolding or italicizing the most shocking/funniest sections, but it's a short piece.  

Read it and weep.  It's simply unbelievable.]


Jell-O wrestling at the South Pole is one of the projects detailed in the Senate report “The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope.”

        The Senate's top watchdog on government waste, in a new report Thursday, said taxpayer money has gone to fund such programs as Jell-O wrestling at the South Pole, testing shrimp's exercise ability on a treadmill and a laundry-folding robot, all funded by the National Science Foundation.

        Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said he identified more than $3 billion in mismanagement at NSF, ranging from questionable studies to exorbitant operating costs, and in some cases duplication by the science agency of operations performed by other agencies.

        At a time when the federal government is struggling with record deficits and bumping up against its borrowing limit, Mr. Coburn said the agency is a prime example of the kinds of spending taxpayers should no longer tolerate.

       "There is little, if any, obvious scientific benefit to some NSF projects, such as a YouTube rap video, a review of event ticket prices on stubhub.com, a 'robot hoedown and rodeo,' or a virtual recreation of the 1964/65 New York World's Fair," Mr. Coburn said in a letter to taxpayers he wrote introducing the 73-page report, documented by more than 350 footnotes.

         In one instance NSF employees, in their spare time, engaged in a Jell-O wrestling contest at the agency's McMurdo research station at the South Pole. 

                In another case, the agency paid $559,681 to test sick shrimp's metabolism, which one researcher said was "the first time that shrimp have been exercised on a treadmill."

        Mr. Coburn's report noted that the researchers found sick shrimp "did not perform as well and did not recover as well from exercise as healthy shrimp."

        An NSF spokeswoman said agency officials have a "gold-standard approach to peer review" for the projects they spend money on.

       "While no agency is without flaws, NSF has been diligent about addressing concerns from members of Congress about workforce and grant management issues, and NSF's excellent record of tracking down waste and prosecuting wrongdoing is apparent from Sen. Coburn's report," said Dana Topousis, the spokeswoman. 

        "We believe that no other funding agency in the world comes close to NSF for giving taxpayers the best return on their investment."

         Mr. Coburn's report makes clear that the agency itself cracked down on some of the problems, including firing the organizer of the South Pole Jell-O wrestling event.

         In a letter after his dismissal, the dismissed employee complained of "fun nazis" who had clamped down on him.

        The agency has an annual budget of $6.9 billion, and accounts for about one-fifth of all national taxpayer-funded research at colleges and universities.

        Mr. Coburn, in his report, said audits of NSF show it regularly fails to meet management goals. One 2005 audit found almost half of the reports the agency is required to file were submitted either late or not at all.

© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times

Mayakovsky's Last Words

And so they say-

"the incident dissolved"
the love boat smashed up

on the dreary routine.
I'm through with life

and [we] should absolve
from mutual hurts, afflictions and spleen.

* Partial contents of Vladimir Mayakovsky's suicide note, 4-13-30.  Translated by Dina Belyayeva.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ornicopia 7: One Swallow Does Not Make A Spring

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

977.  Did Socrates ever speak of birds?  The last words of the Greek philosopher (470? – 399 B.C.) referred to a bird:  “I owe a cock to Aesculapius;  do not forget to pay it.”

Asclepius (child of Apollo and Coronis) and his daughter Hygiea.  Marble relief from Therme, Greece, end of 5th century B.C.  Istanbul Archeological Museums.  "I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods .  . ."

978.  What effect did Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher and scientist, have on the study of ornithology?   Aristotle (384-382 B.C.) described the food territories of eagles and ravens about 350 B.C.  He studied the anatomy of birds, their eggs, and many of their habits.  It is not surprising that his bird studies as well as those in other phases of natural history were full of errors and unfounded theories.  Nevertheless, for centuries his words were regarded as truth and they continued to influence the western world for more than 2,000 years.  Aristotle believed that masses of birds hibernated in winter and this superstition became so deeply rooted in folklore and literature that it was hotly debated as late as the time of Linnaeus, Buffon and Gilbert White.  William Bartram (1739-1823) was the first distinguished writer to express strongly in literature the absurdity of this notion, and he backed up his opinion with personal observation.  


Raphael, Detail from The School of Athens (Plato and Aristotle), 1510-11, Apostolic Palace, Vatican, Rome 

        In spite of his shortcomings, Aristotle contributed much to the study of birds. He detected, among other things, the red palpitating speck in an egg incubated for 36 hours and recognized it without the aid of a magnifying lens as the beginning of a living embryo.  

Candled egg revealing incubating embryo 

        Today his remark, “One swallow does not make a spring” from his Nichomachean Ethics is frequently quoted, as it has been throughout the centuries since he wrote it, though in popular usage summer frequently replaces spring.


Barn Swallow in Westchester County, New York, Spring 2011

Text excerpted from:  1001 Questions Answered About Birds by Allan D. Cruickshank and Helen G. Cruickshank (Toronto, General Publishing Company, 1958).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Balls of Rain (Bolhinos de Chuva) -- For Mara P.




        Our dear friend Mara will be returning to Brazil shortly.  We are so happy for her to be going home, rejoining Jamie and beginning her new life in the rainforest, but we will miss her  very much.

        Mara taught us all (and particularly Janie) so many things and her company gave us the greatest happiness. One thing she taught and gave us is the following recipe for "Bolhinos de Chuva" or “Balls of Rain”.  

         Recipe books say that these delightful fried pastries are called Balls of Rain because of their shape (round with a forelock that might remind you of Tintin's).  Mara told Jane it was because they are traditionally prepared on rainy afternoons as an antidote against boredom.

         Andy and Edie, our dogs, love Bolhinos de Chuva, of course.  So would, I think, Claude, our cat with the sweet tooth, and the charming Brazilian toucan pictured below.



1 egg

1 cup sugar

1 ½ cup flour

1 cup water

1 ½ tbs. baking soda

1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

Pinch of salt


1.  Mix the eggs with sugar in a medium bowl.

2.  Add water and mix well.

3.  Mix flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl.  

4.  Add little by little the eggs and sugar.  Add extract. 

5.  Heat oil to deep frying temperature and using 2 teaspoons (or a small cookie scoop), scoop a generous teaspoon of batter and carefully drop it in hot oil, using a second spoon to help scrape the dough of the first spoon.  Repeat with several more teaspoons, but do not overcrowd the bolhinos in the pan (a deep frying pan or wok both work well) or they will stick together.

6.  Cook the bolhinos, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides.

7.  Remove bolhinos from oil using slotted spoon or Chinese wire ("leaky") ladle and roll bolhinos in cinnamon sugar or sprinkle on confectioner's sugar when they have cooled slightly.

8.  Begin eating.  If any bolhinos remain, store them in an airtight container lined in waxed paper.

Note:  Bolhinos are worth preparing in quantity.  They freeze well and make a very good breakfast.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Agitprop -- Want It? Enter (Mayakovsky)

1. Khochesh poborot' Kholod?
2. Khochesh poborot' Golod?
3. Khochesh est'?
4. Khochesh pit?
Speshi v udarnuyu gruppu
Obraztsovago truda vstupit'
NankomprosROSTA no. ....

1. Do you want to conquer coldness?
2. Do you want to conquer hunger?
3. Do you want to eat?
4. Do you want to drink?
Hurry up to join the strike team of exemplary labor.
Nankompros, ROSTA no. .... 

  1. The top line is the title of a short agitation verse known as "agitka". 
  2. In Russian language the words "coldness" and "hunger" rhyme, and this couple is a ubiquitous cliche in descriptions of harsh living conditions.
  3. See Udarnik article for "strike teams of exemplary labor".
  4. The smoke in the picture #2 had different associations at these times: today smoke is pollution, then it was a sign of industrial revolution, and posters of early Soviet times abound in smoky chimneys of plants.
  5. Each of the links retained above (i.e., for Nankompros, ROSTA and Udarnik) shed light on a different aspect of this work and early Soviet history.   This poster was created ca. 1920.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

For DS-K -- "Idiots" (Kevin Ayers Lyric/Song and Article Links)

It's getting crazier in every way;
We've got the same kind of Idiots as yesterday.
They were chosen by more Idiots,
They're one of a kind --
They'll steal your life,
But they'll never get Mine.
Cause I'm Gonna Get Mine,
Gonna Get Mine,
Gonna Get Mine, 
Gonna Get Mine!

I'm sick and tired of spending all of my years
Living under the thumbs of those old racketeers.
Power and money - More than life Everytime.
They can use your life,
But they'll never get Mine.
Cause I'm Gonna Get Mine,
Gonna Get Mine,

Gonna Get Mine,
Gonna Get Mine!


This post is dedicated to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, superstar-selfless public servant, his international "peer group" (you know who they are), and their lackey-minions in the working press everywhere.  For further, see Here and Here:

"The arrest of a mediocre international civil servant in the first-class cabin of his jet isn’t just a sex story: It’s a glimpse of the widening gulf between the government class and their subjects in a post-prosperity West."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Past One O'Clock (Mayakovsky, 1930)

Past one o’clock. You're probably in bed.
The Milky Way is like Oka of silver

No need for me to rush. I have no reasons left
to stir you with the lightnings of my cable fervor.
And so they say, the incident dissolved.

The Love Boat smashed up on the dreary routine.
We’re even. There’s no use in keeping the score
of mutual hurts, affliction and spleen.
Look here, the world exudes an eerie calm.

The sky bequeathed to us its constellations.
In periods like this I’d like to be the one
with ages, history and the creation.

Trans. Dina Beljaeva, 2008

Friday, May 20, 2011

Confucius and the Lin


Confucius (谿山行旅)(551 BC-479 BC)

         The older Confucius grew the more disappointed was he that his life should have been spent in vain.  We are told in the Lun Yu that he said: 

        “No wise ruler rises; no one in the empire will make me his master.  My time has come to die.”

          Saddened by the fact that his moral views were rejected by the princes of the nation, he predicted the coming of turbulent times and civil wars, events which had indeed become unavoidable through the degeneration of many petty courts and their disregard for the welfare of the people.

The Lin (麒麟)

         Once it happened (so Kung Yang [1] informs us) that a strange creature had been killed on a hunt of the Duke Ai of Lu, and the sage was called to inspect the body and give his opinion.  Confucius declared it to be that supernatural animal called Lin, the appearance of which is deemed a rare occurrence.  In his despair, Confucius looked back on the death of this royal beast as a bad omen and he exclaimed: “My teaching is finished indeed.” [2]

         It is pathetic to observe the sage’s despair at the end of his career:  but such is the fate of reformers and this saying of Confucius sounds very much like a literal translation of Christ’s last word, “It is finished!” 

Fan Kuan, Travellers Amid Mountains and Streams (谿山行旅), Song Dynasty, ca. 1000, ink and slight color on silk, National Palace Museum, Taipei

        Two years later Confucius felt the approach of his end.  While he walked in front of his house he muttered this verse:

                                   “Huge mountains wear away.

                                    The strongest beams decay.

                                    And the sage like grass
                                    Must fade.                             Alas!

(The original is quoted from Li Ki, The Book of Ritual.)

         These lines of complaint are the Eli, eli, lama sabachthani of Confucius.  He feels forsaken and fears that his work has been in vain.

        Confucius died in 478 in retirement, and his faithful followers built a tomb over his remains, mourning on the spot for three years.  His most devoted admire, Tze Kung, built a hut and lived there for three years longer.

Tomb of Confucius in Qufu

[1]  Kung Yang is one of the three commentators of Kung Tse's historical book Spring and Autumn, the others being Tso Chi and Ku Liang.
[2]  This is the verbatim translation of the four words "wu tao ch'iung i."

Excerpt from:  Paul Carus, Chinese Astrology.  LaSalle, Open Court, 1907. (Please click on link for Paul Carus biography.)

Paul Carus (1852-1919)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pasta con le Sarde (Departing Sicily)





Pasta con le Sarde

        After four rough, colorful and dolorous days in Sicily, it seemed wrong to depart without stopping for a traditional meal, so I decided to research recipes for the famous (and wonderful) Pasta con le Sarde and to select one to share.  

                The following item is borrowed (with gratitude) from Sicilian Cooking Plus.

        Wild fennel, saffron, currants, fresh sardines, olive oil, anchovy, onion, breadcrumbs, pine nuts and perciatelli, my very favorite pasta.  Pasta con le Sarde is fascinating to read and think about, enjoyable to cook and marvelous to eat.

         Recently, we took our first vacation in a very long time. Imagining a trip back to the ancient/modern Mediterranean between Europe and Africa, seeing the photos of La Rocca in Cephalu, the streets of Palermo and the alleys and countryside around Corleone, and reading about Sicily's history makes me want to take my next vacation there.  But I don't want to be kidnapped!



Wild fennel growing by a road

Pasta with Wild Fennels and Sardines (“Pasta con Sarde” – “Pasta chi Sardi”)

          The Pasta con Sarde is a traditional Sicilian dish that is made all over the island, using the same ingredients and differing in the various ways it is prepared. It is mostly often cooked from February to the end of May, because the wild fennels are tender and abundant in this period and the sardines are fished in large quantities.

           In Palermo this dish is called Pasta di San Giuseppe and it is a tradition to cook the Pasta con Sarde on March 19, when Saint Joseph is celebrated.

           Somehow the ancient custom to prepare special food to offer to the gods has been passed on to present time with a variation that instead of the pagan priest receiving the food, we eat and enjoy them with our family and friends.

           The legend relates that due to an exceptional drought, Saint Joseph was begged to cause rain so the crops would grow and avoid that people would die of famine. When the rain came, to thank the Saint, a feast day was dedicated for his celebration and the ceremonious “Tavola di San Giuseppe”, Saint’s Joseph Table, was instituted.

San Giuseppe Church, Taormina, Sicily

           The tavola consisted of a collection of food harvested around March 19. If it was set outside, in the court yard it was open to anybody or if it was set inside the house, it was limited to family and friends. If San Joseph was asked a favor and he granted it, the gratitude was shown by promising to repeat the Tavola celebration for a certain number of years.

            The food on the table varies from town to town, but the bread of Saint Joseph and the pasta with wild fennels, salted or fresh sardines and breadcrumbs, are unfailingly on hand, along with assorted fried vegetables in pastetta, caponatina, fruits and vegetables in season. Usually no meat dishes are offered but the table is full of desserts according to the local production.


           Again, unfailingly on hand the sfingi di San Giuseppe along with bucciddati, pastries and cookies.

            The Pasta con Sarde is made up with the local, ordinary and available ingredients. The unconventional blend of different flavors and aromas, the color and smell of saffron makes this exceptional pasta a favorite dish among the gourmets and food lovers.

Serves 4

  • 1 lb wild fennels
  • 10 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 ½ lb. fresh sardines
  • 5 salted anchovies fillets rinsed
  • Tip of a teaspoon of saffron diluted in 3 tablespoons of water for the sauce  
  • ½ cup of currants or raisins soaked in hot water
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. perciatelli or bucatini pasta
  • Tip of a teaspoon of saffron diluted in 3 tablespoons of water for the pasta 


The Fennels

Clean fennels by removing and discarding the roots and any discolored fronds. Rinse a few times and set aside.

Bring a large pot with 5 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil, add fennels and cook, keeping pot at a medium heat for 15 minutes or until fennels are very tender. Scoop out the boiled fennels with a slatted spoon and when they are cooled, chop them very fine. Save the fennel water for cooking the pasta.

Frantoia (Sicily) Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

The Onions

Over a medium flame, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan.

Add diced onions, sauté until onions are golden, about 7 minutes.
The Breadcrumbs

In a 10 inch skillet, over a medium flame, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil add 2 tablespoons of sautéed onions and breadcrumbs. Keep stirring until crumbs are light brown.

Place in a container and set aside. In some parts of Sicily onions are substituted with sugar.

Pine Nuts

The Sardines

Remove the head and place the sardines in a basin with cold water. Using your finger or a teaspoon, remove scales and discard interior. Open it and insert your finger under the bone to remove it.

Set aside and when finished rinse fish and place in a colander.

Pat dry the sardines with paper towels.

In a 10 inch skillet, over a medium flame, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add 2 tablespoons of the sautéed onions and the sardines.

Sautee the fish briefly, add ½ cup of the reserved water from the fennels, cook for an additional 3 minutes, and set aside.


The Sauce

Over a medium flame, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 4 quart saucepan.

Add remaining onions, the salted anchovies and stir with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until anchovies are almost melted, about 2 minutes.

Add chopped fennels, increase heat to high and cook for about 3 minutes.

Add the diluted saffron, currant, pine nuts, and ½ of the sautéed fresh sardines, salt and pepper to taste. Lower the flame and simmer for about 25 minutes.


The Pasta

Cook pasta according to package directions, reducing recommended cooking time by 2 minutes. 

Drain pasta well and put back in pot. Mix in remaining saffron.

Toss in ½ of the sauce and 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs.

Mix for 2 minutes on low heat or until pasta and sauce are well combined.

Serving Suggestions

Plate individual portions of pasta, add a spoonful of sauce, some of the sardines and onions, and sprinkle each plate with breadcrumbs.

Serve immediately.


1.  From Sicilian Cooking Plus:  "If wild fennels are not available use the green foliage of bulb fennel."

2.  From Patience Gray, Honey From A Weed:  "Fresh sardines and gleaming anchovies provided the fundament of Mediterranean fish markets, both in terms of quantity and modest price.  (Their numbers have declined in recent years, which is reflected in their price.)  When they were abundant, they were 'too cheap' to be found in restaurants; one had to penetrate into a vini or an osteria for working men to find them.  You enter a crowded bar, thread your way through the vociferous male company and seek refuge in a farther room where the cloth covered tables promise restoration.  Here sardines or anchovies are served, which have been cleaned, dried, shaken in flour and rapidly deep-fried and sprinkled in salt; served with hunks of bread in a basket, a bottle of wine vinegar being plonked on the table, and a quarto di vino (1/4 litre of rough red wine).  At the fishmongers the sardine is recognized by its blue-green sheen, its large papery scales, and 'stubby' appearance.  The anchovy, more slender, more pointed nose, blue-black its back and silvery its sides, has smaller, far more fragile scales. If sardines and anchovies don't positively shine, don't buy them.

3. From Patience Gray 2:  "To return to more frugal themes: Byron to Trelawnery '. . .you scorn my lenten fare, but come back soon, I will despatch my salad and sardines and then we will discuss a bottle of hock and talk over matters ...' 

4. For more sardines, see Here.

Temple of Diana, La Rocca, Cephalu, Sicily

Sardines in Sicily