Wine and dine around Senate Square, Helsinki

We were quite lucky in that Finland was not off limits to people going from Malta to Finland. And the Malta airport opened up in mid-July, just in time for our early August flight to Finland. The Finns have done a fantastic job in fighting the Coronavirus. Since they are born with social distancing in their DNA, that part was easy. After we were there for two weeks, the Prime Minister announced that people should wear masks on public transport. By the time we left, about 40% were wearing them. Now it is mandatory. So, all in all, it seemed as close to normal as we could have hoped for.

Something we both agreed that we wanted to do was to visit Linnanmaki, the rather stately old Helsinki amusement park. That will be the next blog. And the subject of the last blog, the Fazer Chocolate Factory was a natural to do as well.

Mostly, we walked around outside, taking in the sights. And we also spent a lot more time riding our bicycles around the area. We were most fortunate in that the weather was always sunny and warm. Of course we visited the Helsinki Outlet Mall!

We even did something neither of us had done in many, many years. We played miniature golf! Quite naturally, our scores reflected our degree of rust!

Just a short bike ride from our Condo, we played our first game of miniature golf in so many years. We made all manner of claims how unfair this course was. But, the plain truth is that we just were not very good.

And since we both would had our birthdays in late July and early August, we decided to celebrate. Along the way, we found out that the City of Helsinki converted the Senate Square to a temporary outdoor café/restaurant/bar. It was open from July through early September. Over 400,000 people decided to enjoy the great weather, along with a cocktail or two. Socially distanced, of course.

So, between a dinner with friends, visiting two traditional Finnish restaurants (both near Se

nate Square) and two trips to the Senate Square cocktail party, we spent some quality time, with great weather and friends. Next year, the temporary outdoor bar will probably be open from June. Looking forward to it again.

Our birthday dinner was at Ravintola Kolme Kruuna (Three Crowns), located a couple of blocks from the Square.

In 1952, the owners of the café and bar Liisan Baari decided to turn it into a restaurant. It is widely believed that they serve the very best meatballs, “Pyttipannu” (“hash”) and fried Baltic herrings in the city. As we have been there on many occasions, I would second that belief.

Directly across the street from Senate Square, Savotta offers a very Finnish experience, reaching across the country for their foods.

The very same view we had from our table.

We did manage to take a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia. Estonia is a favorite destination for us, usually taking a few days over the Christmas holiday each year to stay at various spas. And it’s a fantastic spot for shopping, especially in the Old Town. Due to the Coronavirus, many shops were closed, while some soldiered on in hope of making enough to see them through. We benefited from major discounts at an excellent linen shop Natural Style.  Fifty percent discounts on all of our purchases. Linen is the perfect material to wear in Malta.

And before heading back to the ferry terminal, we had a late lunch at our most favorite restaurant: The Farm.  Like the shops in Tallinn, restaurants were also hard hit by the virus. No more cruise ship visits. And the number of visitors on ferries from Helsinki is down more than 50%, while ferries from Stockholm have ceased operation (except for freight). I’m glad we can support them.

As the number of virus cases throughout Western Europe continue to rise, uncertainty again rises up. People are holding out expectations that a vaccine will be found shortly. We still maintain our distances from others and wear our masks in shops and on buses. And sadly, we now avoid trips into Valletta since the tourists from all over Europe head there first. Our scheduled re-start of our Maltese language class was first pushed back two weeks. Now it has been rescheduled as an on-line class.

The new normal will not be the same. But it will get better.

Se jkun hemm jum aħjar fl-aħħar tal-qawsalla

(There will be a better day at the end of the rainbow)

Milton Hershey, meet Karl Fazer!

Fazer Corporation logo

As an avowed chocoholic, I zeroed in on Fazer chocolate, especially the amazing dark chocolate. So, it didn’t come as a surprise to my wife that I said we should take a break in cleaning up our remodeled Helsinki condo, and take a tour at the Fazer headquarters. Due to the Coronavirus, our tour could not include the actual chocolate production lines; but the trip was well worth it.

My first encounter with Fazer was several years ago when we were walking down the Esplanade in Helsinki, near the inner harbor. The Esplanade is home to some very pricey restaurants, shops and hotels. Just off it one will find the Café Fazer, founded by Karl Fazer in 1891. Fazer was born in Helsinki in 1866. He studied baking in Berlin, Paris and Saint Petersburg before opening up his café. In support of this enterprise, he also opened up a chocolate and confectionary factory. And the rest is, as they say, history.

These pictures are from the first café.

The original cafe Fazer, founded in 1891 in Helsinki
Just get a scoop and choose your chocolate!!
You don’t have to eat chocolate candy. You can also have a pastry.

Like everywhere else in Helsinki, traveling by bus is a snap. Just take a bus from outside our door, to the suburb of Vantaa (location of the airport). Fazer HQ is right across from the bus stop. And right in the middle of a forest (like much of Finland). No forest fires here. They must have been busy raking up the forest floors!

Located in Vantaa, the Fazer HQ included plenty of space for their visitor center. While all their chocolate is manufactured here, there are other plants that make cookie/pastry/ bread/cereal products. All are sold in the visitor center. The tour lasts an hour (including a “tasting room” where you can sample as much candy as you wish( 15 minute time limit). Or realize, that at a certain age, you no longer can eat as much chocolate as you used to eat. From there, you can visit their shop, where you can buy all you want. (At dinner that nite, we chose not to have dessert.)

From entering the visitor center, until we left, I tried to document the complete experience. Enjoy, and drool!

With lunch completed, it was off to the tour.

Imagine! You are in a room with several of these candy trees, along with many counters, all filled with chocolates. And you have 15 minutes to eat all the chocolate that you want. You come in, thinking like a kid. About 5 minutes later, you realize that you are not a kid anymore. Just stay away from the kids. They are still scurrying around, all wide-eyed!

Finally, with reality having taken over, you slink out of the tasting room, and head to the shop. And now your quest takes three turns. First, you finally get to see ALL of the products that Fazer manufacture. And it is an unbelievable range. Then, you start thinking about all of the people at home who would like to receive some Fazer chocolate. And finally, you realize that you should also buy some more stuff for you(which you will eat later). And as you depart the visitor center, you each receive a large grocery bag from Fazer, containing a bit of all of their products. We will be back!

When I look back on our experience at Fazer, I realize that we were there for almost three hours. For chocolate! Well worth the time. Fazer is so much more than a chocolate company. A highly ethical company, they deeply care about the environment and all their employees. A very typical Finnish company. Even if you don’t want to take the chocolate tour, make time for lunch in their café, and visit the shop on the way out. I think that the next time we are back in Helsinki we will hop the bus and go out there, to have lunch, and buy some goodies. It’s on my to-do list.

Getting back to the new normal: St. John’s Co-Cathedral

15 July, 2020, and the island country of Malta opens up again to welcome the world to visit. Somewhat differently this time. The guest list doesn’t include all the countries of the world. Some don’t make the cut because of the Coronavirus. But now, all must wear masks on planes, buses and in shoppes and public buildings and churches. Not optional in Malta.

After living here for more than a year and in our virus induced safe bubble for several months, we decided finally to pay a visit this important and beautiful cathedral before Malta was again swamped by tourists. We are still hesitant about getting in the middle of tourists, fresh from arriving from countries that were recently mired in the virus.

The main entrance to St. John the Baptist Co-Cathedral in Valletta.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral (Kon-Katidral ta’ San Ġwann) is located in the heart of Valletta in Malta. It was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist; and was built by the Order of St. John between 1572 and 1577. It was commissioned by the Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere. It was designed by Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar. He built several of the more important buildings in Valletta.

The interior was redecorated in the Baroque style by Mattia Preti. It is probably the finest example of high Baroque architecture in the world. The Knights wanted it to be more magnificent than the churches in Rome; and they spent lavishly. To our thinking, it is the most beautiful interior of any church in the world. Certainly, it is not what one would expect, from just looking at the exterior.

After the Order was expelled by the French when they occupied Malta in 1798, it grew in equal prominence with the archbishop’s cathedral at Mdina. In the 1820’s the Bishop of Malta was allowed to use St. John’s as an alternative see; and it thus formally became a co-cathedral.

Aside from the breathtaking beauty of the Cathedral as seen from the balcony on the inside, it is apparent like all Maltese today, the Church takes social distancing seriously.

After wandering through the Cathedral, we noticed a balcony above the entrance. What a spectacular view from above,
Plenty of elbow room for all!
A gentle reminder to keep all safe.

In addition to the sanctuary, there are nine chapels off to the sides. The images in the floor are the resting places of many of the founders of the church, some important citizens of Malta and members of the order. The closer to the altar, the more important they were. Below the main floor, the final resting places of the Grand Masters.

No visit to the St. John’s Co-Cathedral could possibly be complete without visiting the attached Museum, home to one of the most famous works of the artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Employing the technique known as chiaroscuro (strategic placement of lighting). His short, tempestuous life (1571- 1610), was lived in Rome, Naples, Sicily, and Malta. Ever moving on due to murder charges against him, he wound up in Malta, seeking a pardon from Alof de Wignacourt, Grand Master of the Knights of St. John. Instead he was excommunicated from the church(after the painting was finished).

During his time here, he painted what became known as his most famous painting, Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. It is the only painting of Caravaggio that was signed, in the bloodstain of Saint John. The painting is huge, measuring 150 inches by 200 inches and was completed in 1608.

While Valletta is the capital city of Malta, and its government departments, it is much appreciated by tourists and citizens alike. You could spend several days wandering around. Enjoy it all.

Il-Belt Valletta, il-qalb u r-ruħ ta’ Malta; iċ-ċentru ta ‘tant storja u ċiviltà.

(Valletta, the heart and soul of Malta; the center of so much history and civilization.)

A flowery day in Naxxar

As we slowly re-introduce ourselves into the “new normal” daily life in Malta, we cherish our walks, enabling us to enjoy all the sights, without the crowds. After having breakfast on the terrace and reading our Sunday newspapers, we head on out for our walk.

Two things caught our attention. There are now more people and cars out and about. Our walks still avoid most people. And our decision to not have a car, saves us money, and the hassle of driving in Malta. When needed, buses still work for us. And get us to most places.

The real joy of today’s walk, and the true attention getter, was the brilliant color of the flowers and plants in bloom. So, I decided to take some pictures, and share them with you.

Hope you enjoy!

On Saturday night, we had our first real “fine” dining experience since the start of the Coronavirus. We went back to a favorite, Cellini, about three blocks from the Condo.

I had the Tagliatelle Cellini: Fresh tagliatelle pasta, strips of duck breast, garlic, spring onions, coloured pepper & red wine jus.

The better half had the Risotto pollo funghi: Creamy risotto, strips of chicken breast, asparagus, garlic, spring onions, porcini & touch of cream. Both were way too much to eat. One of the facts of life in Malta is that portion size is normally way too big.

After eating here back in February, we wanted to get seated in the very private Maltese balcony, suspended out over the plaza. The view of the church and the sunset was spectacular. What also caught our attention was the new normal at our table. The menus were no longer in large books. Throw away menus were used. And when we wanted salt and pepper, they were brought out, like you would find in McDonalds: small packets. The dinner and wine were wonderful. And we had a good time. Felt good to get out for dinner.

As things slowly turn for the better, just wanted to wish you all to be well and be happy. Take your pleasures as you find them.

The view from our terrace. We tried, but could not find the pot!

Ix-xemx terġa ‘ Tiddi.

(The sun will shine again.)

Keeping it low key in Naxxar

Been a couple of blurry months, what with the Coronavirus shaking everyone’s lives upside down. Unable to spend much quality time outside; but at least we have the terrace and bread baking. While I prefer bread baking, the better half is all-in on gardening, even if it is on the fourth floor.

One particularly squirrel-like quality that we humans share with the squirrel is the ability to hoard nuts for the winter. Humans have stores to shop in 12 months a year. But the virus has brought out the squirreling instinct. While most Maltese live and die with their daily Maltese bread, people had the urge to buy flour, to have keep busy time. Me, on the other hand, although I do get lots of satisfaction from baking bread, it is how I have my daily bread. Not store bought.

The local Maltese bread is a bit of a national obsession. A fresh loaf everyday for breakfast, and as the perfect conduit for dips at night. For us, it is the perfect canvas when applying jam!

The upshot is that not a gram of white bread flour (strong white flour in Malta) or whole wheat bread flour (strong wholemeal flour in Malta) was to be had on the island. I did find some all-purpose flour at the local bakeries that make the Maltese bread. But not the same gluten level for artisan breads. I asked the Tesco brand manager at the local Smart Supermarket if she could help me out. There was a container enroute to Malta. And it did contain some wholemeal flour. She would put aside 6-1.5kilo bags for me. No white flour was available for shipment. One out of two is OK. I will wait on baking bagels for a while.

After a few weeks, I received an email saying that I could pick up the six sacks they were holding for me. Next day I picked them up, finding out that the rest was almost all already taken off the shelf by other sharp-eyed shoppers.

So, the next day, I got to work on baking my favorite bread: The Bread Lab Whole Wheat Bread. The Bread Lab is part of Washington State University (in Burlington, WA.) They do grain research for farmers and bakers all over the country, and it’s also shared with the rest of the world. I love this particular 100% sourdough whole wheat bread. To it, I add a generous amount of sunflower and pumpkin seeds. As this sourdough recipe is a two day process, to develop the dough and increase the “tang” of the sourdough, I had to bide my time.

On the terrace, the better half knew exactly what she wanted to grow up there. There must be: two lemon trees, one orange and one mandarin tree each, one lime tree and one pink grapefruit tree. In addition, we must have two olive trees. We did reach a compromise. She pointed out where I could plant my herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage). And I always wanted to grow peri-peri peppers (conical about 1” in size). We met a neighbor down the street, with a street level garden. Among the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen, she had a peri-peri plant, still dormant. But, in a sawed up water bottle greenhouse, she was growing some. I was gifted three, that are now home in their own separate pot. A special ingredient in Peri-Peri Chicken, specialty in Lisbon and oft found worldwide (not in Malta) at Nandos.

Since we do travel often to Helsinki, (although not sure when next), we also got a watering system that connects the faucet to each pot, with timer set up for drip irrigation. Hey, like real farmers. A real necessity in Malta in the summer if we are not here.

So, that’s how we are keeping our sanity during these insane times.  Oh, and having the King County Library e-books available to us is fantastic. Restaurants and hairdressers opened up today, but we will wait until we are comfortable going to a restaurant. Getting shampooed and a haircut after all that time was a bliss! Hope all is well with you. Be safe, healthy and keep busy.

Saħħa għal issa

(Goodbye for now)

When will it be the same again?

Like everyone else in Malta, the Coronavirus sort of crept up on us. The leadup to Christmas in Naxxar was very normal. The village was lit up, doors were decorated, everyone was dining out in the restaurants, the bars and clubs were filled with people just waiting for Christmas.

The Naxxar Parish Church just a few days before Christmas.

And we headed out for our usual Christmas in Finland and Estonia. Little did we realize that when we returned, there were reports of some new “flu” in China. Fast forward to May, and we see just how terrible and fatal this new pandemic was. But, we did enjoy Christmas.

Moving to Malta, as I said previously, was a wonderful and wonderous experience for us. We could not have made a better choice. And, adding to it, is just how the Maltese responded to the challenge of the pandemic. The government early on closed the airport and all ferries to Italy. They took steps to ensure our health by telling all people with compromised immune systems and those over 65 to remain indoors, unless for grocery shopping or other essentials. But, since most companies already delivered, this was not a hardship.

Non-essential businesses were closed down. Social distancing was immediately put in place. People who went out, while in quarantine, were fined initially €1000 and if they persisted, €3,000. If you gathered in groups of more than three, you were fined. Many restaurants initiated takeout and delivery services. We have availed of take out for ourselves, tasty pizzas, hamburgers, fantastic mushroom risotto, and just yesterday, excellent roast beef with béarnaise sauce and roasted potatoes. The tiramisu was to die for!

As part of the semi-lockdown, the government initiated programs that gave money to people out of work or working just part time. These were not one time gimmicks. They are paying out up to 80% of an employee’s wages until the crisis has passed. They are supporting business, but not to the exclusion of the people.

And out of concern for the peoples’ health, they called off all the social festivities of the Festa season this summer. And that includes no nighttime fireworks. And for the Maltese, THAT is a big deal. Yet no pushback.

And in early May, it became mandatory to wear a face mask or a facial shield when riding a bus or going into a shop, even as they are slowly opening up what can be safely opened. Every open shop entered means getting your temperature taken, along with a squirt of hand sanitizer. No mask, no entry on the bus or into a shop. Pretty soon it was common to see someone step off the sidewalk, into the street to avoid getting closer than 2 meters to you.

But through it all, the Maltese did not rebel or threaten the government over its actions. No armed groups of people threatened the government. At the end of the day, the Maltese realized that the government was looking after its citizens and residents. And the statistics, as of May 8, bear this out. There has so far been only 490 cases total, with only 58 cases considered active. As a result of the government’s actions, there were only five registered deaths. And ranking fourth in the world in the number of tests per million people, the number of reported cases has dropped to about 1-3 per day for the last three weeks. Contact tracing is a serious business.

Yesterday, we made our first “trip” out, for a couple of hours. By bus we went to Valletta to take in the annual floral display in St. George’s Square. A beautiful sunny day, with the colors of the display in full regalia.

After seeing the display, we started walking back to the bus terminal. And we realized just how deserted the streets were. On the main street, Republic, there were almost no people. During carnival, just two months ago, there were about 400,000 people.

Where hundreds of thousands flocked to Republic Street for the Carnival, just a handful today,

When we passed shop after closed shop, we understood that although the Maltese fully support the government, it does come with an economic loss. Especially when you consider Malta’s main industry is tourism. Without a doubt, the summer tourist season is over before it started. Hope is that it will return in 2021.

The irony of the recovery. Most shops closed, but you can still buy a Mont Blanc pen.
Not a happy sight on Merchant Street.

Passing by Castille, the Office of the Prime Minister, the stairs were empty, unlike during carnival. Is this the new normal?

Just a couple of months ago, we were among the thousands watching the Carnival.
We were there, enjoying our first Carnival.
Can’ t wait to see the Carnival next year. Won’t miss him!

Cultural activities, like the April presentation of the opera Otello, were cancelled.

Perhaps, next year.

Finally, I was able to take a picture of Jean Parisot de Valette, the Grandmaster of Malta, without people surrounding his statue.

Jean Parisot de Valette, Grandmaster, who led the Maltese in repelling the Ottoman Empire in 1565. The following year he laid the cornerstone for what is now the capital city of Valletta.

When will this end? And when it does, will Malta ever return to “normal?” I somehow doubt people will soon feel the desire to reach out and touch people. And will we ever allow anyone to get within two meters of ourselves? Will bars and restaurants again be crowded? And when can we again travel to Finland?

The former lumber mill just north of Pori, in Finland.

I really do not know. I doubt the government knows for sure. There one thing that I know with absolute assurance is that, yet again, the Maltese character is shining through, as it did during WW2. People are still helpful, albeit at a distance. Government services still function in a reasonable fashion, even though it is mostly on-line now. The people still believe that government is their friend, not their enemy. Recovery will be slow; but Malta’s economy was not shattered as much as other countries. They actually had a rainy day fund, as there was a budget surplus.

With five thousand years of history, a sunny and warm climate, along with the blue Mediterranean Sea, and a welcoming population, I bet on Malta coming back even stronger, although with some differences.

Wines of Malta and Sicily

When we moved to Malta, we wanted to immerse ourselves in Maltese culture and life. Towards that end, we signed up for a Maltese language class. To be honest, my wife has done better than me in that regard. It’s not an easy language. What can you expect from the country that for over 5,000 years has been attacked or conquered, one way or another, by Arabs, Italians, French, North Africans, Turks and the British; and almost bombed flat by the Germans in WW II. It is a language that combines a bit of them all. Not to mention my pet peeve: words with seven letters, of which you pronounce only four. But, hey, we try; and it is appreciated. We won’t give up.

Enjoying my photography, I am amazed, every day, at what I see. I never imagined photographing buildings 5,000 years old. The very word “old” means something different in Malta than in the United States. A real window into learning a bit of Maltese history.

This is the moat you must cross to get to the capital city of Valletta.

As for food, don’t get me started. What can you say about a country that enjoys the bounty of the sea, the heritage of Italian cuisine, not to mention Rabbit (Fenek)! Oh, and how we love a good pizza. Speaking of which, if you find yourself in Balzon, try the pizza at the Band Club San Gabriel. But, if you find yourself in Naxxar (pronounced Nashar), you must try this pasta dish.

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Fresh Taglioline Al Nero Di Sepia (Fresh tagliatelle with mixed seafood in alfredo sauce with parmesean cheese and squid ink.)
(This is my favorite pasta, courtesy of The Daily Grub in Naxxar.)

Of course, if you enjoy good great food, then you need some good wine to accompany it. Having lived in the Pacific Northwest of the United States for 40 years, we were fortunate to learn quite a bit about wine, having taken several wine classes led by the amazing Bob Betz, he of The Betz Family Winery, outside of Seattle.  He taught us how to find good wine no matter where you live. We were taught to recognize good wines and find them in bottles that did not break the piggy bank. (His strongly held belief was that anyone could find an excellent wine for too much money.)

Malta (the size of Seattle) and Gozo, much smaller, contain quite a few wineries, growing wine in some harsh conditions. Until the past ten years, the quality of Maltese wine, overall, was considered average. Through diligence and training, Maltese wine, and those produced in Sicily have become some of the best wines available in the Mediterranean area.

After living here for one year now, we have identified five wines, so far, that receive the JZ label of approval. We have sampled many differing wines but need more research!

ISIS Chardonnay Superior, 2018. Produced and bottled by Meridiana Wine Estates. TA’ Qali, Malta

Until otherwise, this is our “company” white wine. For us, works equally well with seafood and chicken. Not exactly a house wine, as it set us back E15. Note that it is only 12.5%, for which we are grateful, during global warming.

Isis classification

DOK Malta – Denominazzjoni ta’ Origini Kontrollata Vintage 2018,2017,2016,2015,2014,2013,2012varietal/s Chardonnay of Malta tasting notes

Isis has a brilliant, straw-yellow color with a pale green rim; a fresh, complex bouquet of grapefruit and other exotic white fruits with gentle floral notes; and a well-structured, citrus taste with a long, pleasantly acidic, aftertaste.

The 2018 vintage was characterized by the constant rainfalls registered in spring. This made it quite challenging, but at the end, grape production was abundant. Excellent work and control on the white grape varieties, and the thorough selection on the red grape varieties have given the desired quality and balance to the wines.

The name ‘Isis’ recalls the Phoenician goddess of sailors whose vigilant eye still graces the prow of the Maltese fishing luzzu (boats).

The Isis was first released in 1997 (vintage 1996)

Medina Syrah/Carignan/Mouvedre, 2018, Produced and bottled by Delicata Winery, Malta (Mouvedre instead of Grenache)

One of our very favorite wines from France, that is light on the palate. Essentially, it is a Rhone wine from the midi. Maltese climate is very similar to the Rhone. And it is light on the budget, at around E6. Can often be found on our table with light pasta and poultry. It is especially good when pared with chunks of smoked Maltese sausage as an appetizer.

Medina Syrah – Carignan – Mourvedre, I.G.T. MALTESE ISLANDS(2018)

The Maltese summer warmth and Delicata’s expert care for their family-run vineyard parcels give this skillful winemaker’s blend of three complementary grape varieties its distinguished burst of ripe summer fruit flavors and spiciness. This unoaked, soft and cherry red dry wine is lighter in style, yet abundant in regional character. Serve cellar cool at 14-18°C.

Nero d’Avola, 2018, DOC, Caleo, Sicily, Italy

This red wine from Sicily is without a doubt, our preferred house wine. Tannic in nature, and usually young in age, it pairs well with meat, pasta in red sauce, and especially with pizza. It also pairs up well with smoked Maltese sausage. This particular label cost E4.99. Found in all grocery stores, this is one of many brands sold. They vary in price from E2.99 up to an astronomical E7.99. Frankly, we prefer it to Chianti, since it is no longer sold in baskets.

For most people the Nero d’Avola grape is largely unknown. So, here is a primer (test will follow):

Nero d’Avola (also known as Calabrese) is the most important and widely planted red wine grape variety in Sicily. Vast volumes of Nero d’Avola are produced on the island every year and have been for centuries. The dark-skinned grape is of great historical importance to Sicily and takes its present-day name from the town of Avola on the island’s southeast coast. The area was a hotbed of trade and population movement during the Middle Ages and Nero d’Avola was frequently used to add color and body to lesser wines in mainland Italy.

Translated, Nero d’Avola means “Black of Avola”, a reference to the grape’s distinctive dark coloring, but its exact origins are the subject of debate. The region of Calabria can lay claim to the variety via its synonym Calabrese (meaning “of Calabria”), though this term may be a derivation of Calaurisi, an ancient name for someone from Avola.

For most of the 20th Century, Nero d’Avola was used as a blending grape and the name very rarely appeared on wine labels. By the turn of the 21st Century, however, the grape’s fortunes had changed considerably, and it is now common to find Nero d’Avola produced as a varietal wine as well. It is often compared to Syrah because it likes similar growing conditions (Sicily has a hot Mediterranean climate) and exhibits many similar characteristics.

Depending on production methods, Nero d’Avola can be made into dense and dark wine that is stored in oak barrels and suitable for aging, or young and fresh wines. Younger wines show plum and juicy, red-fruit flavors, while more complex examples offer chocolate and dark raspberry flavors.

Nero d’Avola typically has high tannins, medium acid and a strong body. However, it can also be very smooth if grown at higher elevations where cooler temperatures restrict the alcohol levels. It thrives on the eastern part of Sicily and is being trialed in Australia and California.

A very tasteful, full-bodied right bank style Bordeaux. Marsovin celebrated its 100th year in 2019. By far the largest winery in Malta, it has a reputation for excellent wine. Since it was my first one, I didn’t get a chance to age it. Still it was enjoyed. But not our house wine at E35.

Marsovin Noir

Dedicated to Marsovin’s late founder Anthony Cassar, affectionately known as Sur Tonin, Antonin Noir is a Private Estate Selection wine blended from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc  grapes harvested at the Marnisi Estate in Marsaxlokk, the first and the largest in the series of Marsovin’s privately owned Estates, intended for the production of premium wines. The fruity characteristics of cherries, blackcurrants and blueberries make this wine enjoyable in its youth while the ageing in French oak barrels gives it a velvety finish on the palate and excellent ageing potential.

Marnisi, 2018, Organic, Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot, Marsovin Winery, Marsa, Malta, 13.5%

Now this wine was a surprise. My personal favorite type of wine, a left bank Bordeaux. It was wonderful. Compares well with the wines from the left bank of France. What was the shocker was that it was organic. Never had much luck with finding good organic wines. This was different. What was really and truly different was that the winery in Marsaxlokk was able to make this from organic grapes. Land is valuable. You can grow grapes next to fruit and veggies, that are not organic. And with spraying nearby, that they could sustain an organic status was amazing. Not a house wine because of price. E19. Even so, it will always find a place in our wine cellar.


Marnisi is a Single Estate Selection wine harvested from the Marsovin vineyards in Marsaxlokk bearing the same name. It is a blend of four noble grape varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It is a full-bodied complex red wine of great character with a strong Mediterranean terroir. The limited quantities produced are aged in French oak barriques for a minimum of 12 months in the Marsovin cellars. Due to its robust nature and solid structure Marnisi has an excellent ageing potential. Since its inception in the mid nineties, Marnisi has won respect from various wine lovers and connoisseurs around the globe and the reasons for this are evident to the enthusiast.

We hope you enjoyed this short trip through Maltese and Sicilian wines. So much going on in just our first year. This wine experience to date has been everything we had hoped it would be, and so much more. We can’t wait to get out and explore some more. What can be better than to explore living history, great people, food and wine. Sure hope you can find some of these wines where you live.

And as soon as we can get free from the Coronavirus enforced “stay at home,” we will again hit the road, with an open mind and camera. In the meantime, stay well, and wash your hands, while staying two meters apart!

Part of what makes Malta so special. Springtime in the President’s Garden at San Anton Gardens in H’Attard.

ħajja ħajjin, igawdu ħajja!

(Live life, enjoy life!)

The meaning of bread

The other day I sent a few pictures of some good looking bread. But now, I found out what bread really means to the Maltese. This time, no need to show pictures.

Bread in the Maltese language

There are several ways in the Maltese language to define how bread is the basis of survival.

  • (ħobżu maħbuż), his bread is baked, meaning the person is well-off.
  • (tilef ħobżu), he has lost his bread, meaning the person has lost their job.
  • (x’ħobż jiekol dan?), what bread does he consume? an expression used when enquiring after a person’s character.
  • (jeħtieġu bħall-ħobż li jiekol), he needs it like his daily bread, used when a person is in great need of something.
  • (ħaga li fiha biċċa ħobż ġmielha), something which provides a lot of bread, used to describe a profitable endeavour.
  • (ma fihiex ħobż), it procures no bread, used to describe a profitless venture.

So, now you have more ways to refer to bread, and astound your friends.

Ejja biex jinkiser il-ħobż

(Let’s break bread)

Well, no one can say things are moving slowly in Malta.

A matter of hours after posting the last blog, the Maltese government announced some new rules taking place effective Saturday morning. All residents over 65 years of age, as well as those with diminished physical capacity and pregnant woman must remain in their homes. Only way out is for visits to doctor. I do appreciate the pro-active way the government is responding. Not at all like our neighbors to the north in Italy or Spain.

While I will miss my daily walks, shopping and photography, I still have my bread baking (artisan breads are not often done here). And good bread flour is a rare item here. The Maltese are rightly proud of their daily bread, Il-Ħobż tal-Malti. Typically, one pound in size, the Maltese buy a fresh loaf every day of the week. Some even get their loaves from small trucks that go around the villages, much like the fruit and veggie trucks.

Maltese bread (Maltese: Il-Ħobż tal-Malti) is a crusty sourdough bread with a squishy interior, usually baked in wood ovens. It can be eaten as an accompaniment to food and with a variety of fillings; the typical and favorite way to consume it is as bread with spread olive oil (Ħobż biż-żejt), where the bread is rubbed with tomatoes (as with the Catalan pa amb tomàquet) or tomato paste, drizzled with olive oil. But for certain, it is the daily breakfast bread.

There is nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread when walking by the local bakery.

Then there is the Ftira. This is the National bread. Looks very much like a very crusty bagel, light and airy on the inside. About the size of a discus. From it, you can make a myriad of sandwiches for lunch. Our favorite is the tuna sandwich.

Nothing can beat an Ftira for a great sandwich.

I’ve spent the last couple of months building my sourdough. From it, I will bake 2 kilo whole wheat boules with seeds. Also, I can be counted on to bake sourdough whole wheat bagels, along with some 100% rye breads for the Finn in my life.

Nothing better than baking my daily bread, be it boule or bagel.

As man does not live by bread alone, I also have my Bradley Smoker to barbecue ribs, chicken and pork shoulders for pulled pork. Not to mention an homage to our past in Seattle. we make a mean hot smoked salmon.

So, I like to think of this next period as the time for making plans for later in the year, after this tragic anomaly is concluded. We will get through this just fine. Through five thousand years of history, the Maltese have faced off with so many kinds of enemies, getting stronger for it. A most resilient people, with a kind heart and a most generous nature.

While the evening is here now, the daylight will be even stronger.

Jkollna aktar b ‘ saħħitha u aħjar

(Getting stronger and better)

An update on the health of Malta

The government has just released the daily count on the Coronavirus. They released figures showing five new cases overnight, bringing it up to 134. Of the five new cases, three are from people who traveled to the Continent, while two caught it from someone in Malta. So far, there has been no dramatic ramping up of the cases. And very fortunately, there is only one person who is in critical, but stabilized condition. There have been no fatalities to this point. Being an island nation can be helpful from time to time.

Like most places, no public gatherings allowed; bars, clubs and restaurants are closed. Grocery stores and pharmacies remain open. Other businesses are shut down. Construction sites, for the most, remain working. The airlines cannot enter or leave Malta. And ferries to Sicily remain shut down.

Like restaurants the world over, creativity by the owners are keeping us in great food, to take away. Last night it was Thai street food, and two nights ago it was great pizza. So, we enjoy good food, while helping the neighborhood economy.

There was a piece of good news. The government just opened up a new electricity scheme that will enable new users of solar panels to offset their electrical usage by getting rate reductions for using solar. Not only will that save us a bundle of money on our bills, it will be another step in making Malta a more renewable energy friendly country. We will be getting solar panels in a couple of months, in time for the really hot and sunny part of the year. Keeping our cool.

In previous blogs, I mentioned how fireworks crazed the Maltese are. One of the downsides is that periodically, they go boom! Yesterday was such a time. We had a very violent lightning, rain and thunderstorm in the late afternoon. Then we heard an even louder boom. Later we found out that lightning struck a fireworks factory.

Virtually all the villages and towns have at least one fireworks factory to supply the summer Festas. This is a fairly regular occurrence. But, no one was hurt.

So, be safe out there. Keep practicing six feet (two meter) separation, wash your hands continually, and keep a good attitude. It will get better. Solidarity means we care about everyone, everywhere. When the world gets healthier, the economies will get better. Put the health of our world first.