Friday, May 8, 2009

If you find yourself in Santa Venerina...

There are definite advantages to being an expat in the hometown of your partner. Today was another perfectly spontaneous example of why.

We decided to take the toddler to see some horses at a ranch in Zafferana Etnea hubby had heard about through a high school friend he recently got back in touch with who has a long time passion for horses. Hubby got an address, we punched it into TomTom, and were off just like that. Soon past Acireale we were heading inland into unfamiliar territory. The road quickly got 'country' with the occassional house, lots of small vineyards, wild flowers and overgrown weeds galore, and with each turn the road got narrower until two cars could no longer safely pass eachother on this most narrow of two-way streets that eventually lead us to our destinaton (with a lot of honking along the way to warn any unseen vehicles coming in our direction of our arrival! and, surprisingly, there were quite a few!).

We got to the ranch, said hello to the ponies, made the little one happy, had a great time, but will probably never go back again as we previously found another horse ranch that we like much better (the other one is much larger, has a more relaxed friendly vibe, and has farm animals too). 

But what is so hard to explain is that the fun part was not just getting to our destination and the experience we had there, but how we got there--getting the recommendation from an old friend, managing to get to this remote place, absolutely loving the wild, overgrown landscape, and then, how the rest of the afternoon magically unfolded: instead of getting back in the car and going straight home, I found myself once again in the role of victim to my Sicilan partner's whims, who often has late afternoon granita cravings, today being no exception.

Some days these cravings can be an inconvenience (they usually don't mesh with toddler's schedule, let alone mine) but as we had set out early this day, the timing couldn't have been better. And with our light lunch and the novelty of spring heat, I found myself in the mood for a granita as well.

The plan was to head to a place we knew about in Acireale. But then, pulling out of the ranch, hubby is overtaken by a distant memory from who knows where, about 'once hearing about the best granita in the area being from Santa Venerina'?. 

I, of course have many questions to ask: 'where is Santa Venerina'?', 'but who did you hear this from?', 'have you ever been there before?', 'how will we find the place?', etc. etc. I know better than to ask any of these questions, and instead give the encouraging nod. I have learned over the years that when this amazing guy has a hunch, it is best to keep quiet and follow along. I don't know if it is a Sicilian thing, or his thing, but he really does have a nose for discovering great places. 

We follow the signs to Santa Venerina (the ranch is actually on the outskirts of this town, I just didn't know that), and soon are in the town center. The town is pretty and strange all at once. A combination of beautiful old buildings interrupted by glaringly new or half completed ones.

Hubby sees  a guy on foot, slows down and asks him if there is a place in town where you can have a good granita. Si, si and without hesitation Bar Russo is named, followed by the directions. The place is just around the corner.

An old sign greets us, Pasticceria Russo, 1880, and immediately gives us a good feeling. Hubby is happy. His intuition and memory have lead us to what appears to be a great find, yet again.  

Inside the establishment has an old feeling as well. A normal glass vetrine showing a nice range of traditional pastries, and behind that, an intriguing gilt wood paneled wall that dates to the 1880 founding we are told, but is unfortunately half covered up as it is being restored.  

Further in we find the simple yet old wooden bar serving the traditional granita and gelato flavors, with a large, sunny and comfy seating area in the rear space. Hubby was pleased to see only the limited flavors that he remembers from his childhood listed, a good sign that they are all homemade and authentic. For the gelato that would be chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, torrone and nocciola (hazelnut), and for the granita, chocolate, almond, pistachio, coffee, lemon (yes all those crazy gelato flavors you can now find are relatively recent inventions!).

We go for our usual almond granita accompanied by two brioches. The granita is very good, not creamy but icy, just the right amount of sweet, and I die for the brioche, more buttery than sugary and very airy. YUM. The toddler also had a blast and was treated by the generous proprietors to a sampling of sweets and there was just the right amount of people to keep him curious. 

Our adventures did not even end here! On the way out of town we followed the signs to the Museo del Palmento and found ourselves in a 19th century farm house that the owners have filled with their own private collection of antique implements used for making wine, oil and the like. The space housing the collection is amazing because it was originally used for producing wine and is a complex maze of small chambers with mysterious doorways, openings and drains. The owner and ceramic artist who makes the creations on sale gave us a tour. I should also mention the ceramics are reasonably priced and charmingly rustic. 

Our long winded journey ended here, as does my long winded story. All this to share with you a few more local discoveries, hopefully capturing along the way how the particular ingredients of sometimes crazy Sicilian hubby, occassionally free-spirited American expat, and our usually happy go lucky toddler combined in the perfect way this day for a great family outing. 


  1. no that's what i call an outing
    what a great day, you ended up where you didn't expect, and it was so much fun too

  2. What a lovely post. I felt as if I was with you on your meanderings. I empathise with hubby as I get granita cravings all the time! I think you had the best kind of day imaginable, just going along with it.

  3. What a nice day! I remember we were out on our bike one day and we found ourselves at the Museo del Palmento. What nice and passionate people!

  4. Really nice post, these are the good days. Now I have cravings for a granita...

  5. Wow..I really enjoyed this post a lot! Sigh...more please ;-)

  6. Thanks for all your nice comments!
    Jill, That's great to hear that you found the museum on your bike ride!

  7. What a wonderful day out. I miss granita, I don't see it here very often.


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