This month, we are highlighting Lin and Charlie Frye who recently returned from a customized trip to Sicily where they learned how to prepare traditional Sicilian pastries, enjoyed a ceramics demonstration, toured a wine cellar, participated in a cooking class and stayed in charming, rural agriturismos along the way!
Interview with Lin & Charlie Frye
- What was your favorite hotel of the trip and why?
I can't possibly choose ONE hotel over the others, as they were all glorious and special in their own ways. What was so remarkable about each of the places we stayed was that they imbued the particularities of the region in which they were located. Here are some details on each:
During our first stop outside Marsala, we stayed in the original section of the agriturismo and loved it! This part of the hotel was filled with stone works, remains of an ancient cistern or bath house, the original stone entry to the wine cellar, arched gates, young olive trees, wildflowers, and tuffa boulders. Our bedroom was very comfortable and had lovely large wooden shutters that kept the room cool in the hot afternoons. The brick arch over our bed was beautiful and I appreciated the writing desk in the room where I wrote in my travel journal during siesta time. The hotel was splendidly close to Marsala that we easily drove back and forth to see the city's highlights, yet was far enough from the bustle of the city. We also enjoyed watching the workers tend the grapes and olives in the fields surrounding the hotel. The food served was probably the most sophisticated of all the restaurants we sampled. Five courses each night had us sated! It was here, though, that my emotions ran highest. The evening we ate our first meal was Mother's Day, and the Cous Cous di pesce O.T so reminded me of a recipe my mom fixes, made of spaghetti and crab sauce, that I was reduced to tears of joy! This one aspect of our meal made the connection I had been searching for between the Sicily of my ancestors and the family traditions I practice in my own home. All of the dishes from the pasta to the pane were some of the best, most delicious, meals we've ever had. The friendliness of the staff, the food, the helpfulness, the kindnesses shown to us were memorable and incredible.
Our second hotel outside Agrigento was the PERFECT mountain retreat, quiet quiet quiet! We enjoyed views of the mountains and valleys, which were breathtaking! Our room was beautifully appointed and very comfortable. We could roam around the complex, view the fields, visit the garden or swimming pool, sit under the shady veranda or patio, or learn more about Sicily and Cammarata from the plethora of books in the game room, all without getting back in the car. The small sitting areas made mingling with the other guests easy and delightful. We really enjoyed the fact this was a small country farmstead/estate, rural and peaceful. We spent a good amount of leisure time relaxing on the covered patio and veranda. The birdsong that greeted us each morning was extremely pleasurable, to say NOTHING about the food! Here the food was country fare still five courses long, but more traditional to the rural mountain areas. We dined on tasty veal cutlets, braised sausages, and potatoes among other local fare. Each meal began with antipasti and ended with various liqueurs. The evenings were spent in conversation with other guests under the stars and balmy night sky.
In Catalgirone, our rural estate/farmstead was nicely located, close to the center of town. It was wonderfully quiet with horses and mountain and valley views. The main hotel area was incredible! The large veranda with its vistas, the large dining area with its arches, cozy nooks, smaller rooms for private dining, all done in sunny yellow with photos of family members as they worked the farm. These additions were cheerful, warm, and incredibly comfortable. Our room was down several outdoor steps that were bordered by informal garden areas including roses that smelled divine, and the largest lavender bush I had ever seen! Our room was a bit smaller than the previous two, but was comfortable and overlooked the lovely valley. The first morning we awoke, we watched a new foul try out its legs in the pasture! As our last hotel, the food was rural and again, dinner was five courses! The Gnocchetti Broccoli e Salsiccia dish I had was divine. Obtaining this recipe was hilarious! Since we don't speak Italian, a couple from Switzerland and their daughter translated it into English as the owner explained it in Italian with body gestures! What I loved about this hotel was the closeness and ease of driving to Catalgirone yet being in the rural mountains that we prefer. The quiet, the informal gardens, wildflowers, horses, birdsong were just the setting we were looking for, yet we easily and quickly drove into town, found ample parking, and walked off our incredible meals.
Our last hotel was located at a winery/olive mill, perched on one of the smaller mountains on the ridge of Mt. Etna. Our room was the largest of all those we experienced and surrounded a central, covered patio that overlooked Mt. Etna. Each evening prior to dinner (served down the hill on their enclosed terrace), guests were given tastes of the many varieties of wines they produced along with delicious antipasti! Antipasti consisted of fresh mozzarella, a variety of cured meats, green and black olives, bread for dipping in the homegrown oils (plain, lemon, garlic and red pepper flavored), various pestos, and marinated miniature artichokes. Dinner was again, five courses in length. The specialty here was definitely the wine, and guests were served a bottle of their choice after the tasting. The location of this hotel was exactly what we desired--- absolutely PERFECT for us!
- Tell us about your pastry demonstration. What did you make?
When we arrived the Chef was making layer cakes, frosting and decorating them; he used hazelnuts, frosting swirls, and fresh WILD strawberries. He explained that the strawberries that grow in the forests and are smaller, far tastier, and much more difficult to come by. After watching him decorate the cakes, we told him how much we loved pastries, especially cannoli, and he proceeded to make us the BIGGEST cannoli we've ever seen or eaten! As our gigantic cannoli cooled, he demonstrated how to make Sicily's famous Cassata. Lastly, we observed the process of making capaletti, little hats. We watched as the Chef and his assistants rolled out the sweet dough the length of entire metal table (about 4 feet x 2 feet), and then they added dollops of cannoli filling (a blend including sheep's milk ricotta, sugar, vanilla and chocolate bits) along its length. These tempting delicacies
were then covered with another sheet of sweet pastry. A biscuit cutter was used to cut the pastry into hats that resembled round dessert ravioli. The hats were then fried in vegetable oil. The chef explained that unlike cannoli, capaletti were to be eaten warm. We left with full tummies and jaws dropping in AWE!
- What were your experiences at the pottery demonstration?
Right from the beginning, we were impressed that the entire family was involved in making the exquisite pottery and ceramics we saw at the shop! The family created such a variety of pieces-- plates to huge vessels to tiny jewelry medallions, to figurines that depicted remarkable street scenes in Sicily, such as grocers, weavers, fishermen and even the Nativity.
We were introduced to a young man completing his five-year apprenticeship. His specialty is crafting clay grottos, formed completely by hand. He demonstrated the four steps needed to create his masterpiece. While the apprentice was making the grotto, the owner's son demonstrated on a potter's wheel how to craft a vase. It looked so simple! As we toured the studio, we observed the family's daughter beautifully painting several bowls, and saw a kilnful of beautiful plates ready for firing.
As we chatted in our pitiful Italian, hand-gestures, and dictionaries, the owner's husband told us that he manages a large group of men and women who perform Sicilian folk music and dance all over the world. He quickly broke out his bamboo flute, while the apprentice took out his mouth harp, and they began an impromptu musical demonstration! To return the favor, Charles sang a bit of gospel music that he performs here in North Carolina. The entire demonstration had turned into a spontaneous party! We left reluctantly. These were people were admired and enjoyed, and we promised to return to see them again.
Images From Lin & Charlie's Cooking Lesson:
Images From Taormina:
- What was the your least favorite part of the trip and why?
The least favorite part of the trip was finding our hotels in each city! The maps we had weren't that detailed. Nonetheless, we LOVED driving across Sicily the landscape was exactly what we wanted to see! From the small roads along the seaside to the winding, narrow, circuitous roads over the mountains, we loved what we saw and experienced. Finding our specific hotel, most often tucked away outside of each town, was often difficult, made more so because of our limited Italian, but there were always friendly folks around to ask directions.
All in all, the chance to discover the heart of Sicily, away from the touristy areas, staying in authentic areas with local interaction, experiencing the arts of cooking, ceramics, wine-making, etc. THIS was THE PRIMO highlight for us! I can easily add the friendliness of the people, their genuine helpfulness and kindness, the awesome age of everything, the abundant arches and stones, the colors, the way the sun made everything so cheerful, the landscape!!!! The rows upon rows of olive trees, grapevines, the wonderful narrow streets, alleys and hidden stairways and courtyards, the churches, the artwork ---- well, you know --- EVERYTHING!!
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