This might sound sorta wacky, but during these last twelve calendar months traveling to various parts crisscrossing the world I can’t recall preparing a daily account of what we should eat days before departing those previous 2015-2016 destinations. Not until early September upon our return to New York did it dawn on Jeanette that we gobbled only one lonely sesame cookie from Panificio Furco in Castellammare del Golfo last summer. LouLou joined her mother firing another complaint toward my guilty conscience squealing, “Poppi, I only got to have a rum babà once from Bar Dell’Amicizia on Lampedusa.” Initially this griping over what we ate little of or hadn’t eaten at all starts with dreaming about sweets, often spending time in places where whatever is fondly remembered couldn’t be found to save our souls — for me, cassata gelato in Thailand last spring.
We really gotta learn from previous mistakes, this year I swear things are gonna change. The wish list has currently been divided evenly among us — who desires what given a certain amount of meals remaining. Jeanette, LouLou and I crave another arancini; not such a snap, Sicily offers an abundant range of stuffing options: eggplant, prosciutto with mozzarella, ragu, onions and sausage, spinach, even pistachio. Luscious fist-size buttery arborio rice balls containing everyone’s favorite center, rolled using finely grated bread crumbs, then fried, magically absent from any oily aftertaste. A big food justifier could easily describe arancini as an Italian savory health food Twinkie.
Sicilian focaccia is another issue, having barely over a week left; the selections are too overwhelming. Another dilemma, not every panificio selling these habit-forming slices have a number ticket system to avoid utter pandemonium. Businesses open most mornings by 7:30 for sure, however, throngs of humanity gather immediately, buying up everything which hadn’t been nailed down. Glass display cases get ravaged by large groups who will spend the next ten hours sunbathing on astounding beaches or other flashy Italians who’ll soon board hourly rental boats bypassing Lampedusa’s maddening crowds.
There I’ll be forty-five minutes later, 8:15 sharp, beginning that day’s two hour beach limit, surrounded by transparent Mediterranean briny water, swimming through a curious fish galaxy, hoping to conjure another game plan for the following morning — exiting one of three stellar panificios with our sufficient olive focaccia supply.
I should curse here conveying the perfectness of a Sicilian fig cookie, but I’ll restrain myself. Normally I couldn’t care less about festive, multicolored decorations on cookies, although the vented fig filling paired between a hint of orange cookie underneath powdered sugar would be lost without those frick’n crunchy sprinkles.
Jiggly Italians wearing skimpy bikinis or counterparts stuffed inside neon speedos frequently attempt to suck in their bellies while slapping it using two hands as if their stomachs were a bass drum, proudly announcing, “pancia.” No wonder — entering the Mediterranean Sea for many Italians is a religious moment known as “bagno.” This spiritual saltwater ritual does nothing in terms of burning off decadent calories. Bobbing aimlessly for twenty minutes by my fair examination only heightens their incessant urge to smoke, quickly getting out, lighting another cigarette reaching land without delay.
Oh God, it’s certainly been yet another Fellini sideshow this year; Southern Italians shouting commonplace, alongside dramatic hand gestures. Even yesterday seen from my rearview mirror’s reflection, an unshaven, disheveled middle-aged man appeared thoroughly irritated with our casual pace. This knucklehead drove simultaneously while holding both palms upward, touching each finger pulled together, raising and lowering his arms furiously, ranting a surge of Italian profanity expressing what an idiot I was. Since it was barely 7:20 in the morning, I calmly allowed him to pass; wouldn’t you know it, Signore Agitato nabbed the only available parking spot left in front of Panificio Spiga D’oro.
LouLou’s not looking forward to our frutti di mare feast next week; I’ll compromise, making a considerable diet exception by grilling her fennel sausage request the day prior. As for Jeanette, she’s completely bonkers for calamari totani al forno. This could very well be my final meal of choice if alerted Judgment Day was tomorrow. What a discerning palate Jeanette has; should life bring you to Sicily, order your calamari totani al forno at that toytown restaurant steps away from its seaside harbor; this dish epitomizes rugged Sicily, alongside spaghetti al nero di seppia, might then and there call it quits, you’ve tasted paradise.
Okay, for fun selfless me is placing orders, who wants what? Speak up now or forever hold your peace: panelle — Siciliano pizza — melanzane con provolone calzone — pane cunzato — pasta puttanesca — couscous di pesce — octopus salad — caponata — salami Napoli — primo sale — ricotta al forno — canary melon — Empress plums — ceci — Genovese, maybe granita alla mandorla. Only nine days ‘til our Istanbul layover, that’s not entirely accurate, eleven more if you’re counting one day in Cinisi, another eyeing Roma.