Food has become an inspiration to me. Over the years I have loved cooking . . . family meal on the weekends - a table filled with great Italian food like homemade tomato sauce, fresh pasta, breaded chicken cutlets and roasted vegetables . . .
These past few years I've enjoyed expanding my culinary palette: Mushroom and red wine risotto, coq au vin, homemade bread, cinnamon buns and banana-blueberry muffins, pasta primavera, broccoli-crusted pizza, prosciutto and mozzarella wrapped in chicken . . .
Food is life.
Food is connection.
Food is love.
When I cook for someone I love seeing their face and eyes light up. I love savoring a meal with friends and family.
My passion for food intensified during my time in Tuscany. These past 8 years, Angela and I existed in the heart of Tuscany during Spring and Fall. It began with 1-3 weeks and eventually expanded to 1-3 months. The Italians love food. They celebrate life in so many beautiful and delicious ways. Every meal is a statement . . . an intention . . . a declaration of life and love. I learned to fall in love with Tuscan cuisine. Our stay at a rustic villa known as Villa Le Torri - the place where I found inspiration to write my novels became a favorite haunt and by far the best meal I have ever had.
Typically on Wednesday nights, we celebrate the day and our lives with a Tuscan feast that could choke a pig. The wood harvest table is set under the deep-wooded pergola. Freshly-laundered white linen is spread crisply by the villa owner with a deep sense of pride. The night sky rewards us with a symphony of dancing stars. Friends of all ages and walks of life take their seats in joyous anticipation of Nona's feast. I haven't eaten all day knowing what is about to transpire.
Wine is poured. A few toasts are made. Festive Italian music rings out in the background. A warm breeze wafts in from the olive grove. The air smells of rosemary and slow-burning wood. Gabry, the villa owner greets us with the first appetizer: a plate of fresh prosciutto, ripened melon and cheese nestled around a piece of crusty bread. We dive in with unbridled joy. The prosciutto is silky soft, the bread warm and the melon a sweet bridge.
The plates are cleared making way for my favorite part of the meal: "The Beginning" . . . "The Primo". Nona has been in the kitchen all day preparing this bountiful feast. It's the place she loves to be. No one else is allowed into her culinary domain. In the corner of my eye I see the gleaming white pasta bowls making their way out of the steamy kitchen. Gabry places a white bowl in front of me, giving it a slight turn before casting me a playful wink. After 8 years of visiting his 1,000 year-old-villa he knows what I like. After all the dishes are served he announces the first course: Homemade lasagna with béchamel sauce. My fork sinks into the pillow-like pasta with the greatest of ease. I close my eyes. I am one with this dish . . . one with the moment. Nothing else matters. Nona's sauce can only be described as "nectar of the gods." Gabry eyes me from the old wooden doorway. He knows I desire a second piece. I nod. No words are spoken. Food is the language of love.
The next series of dishes arrive. "Secondi" It's quite literally a feast for the senses:
- Tuscan steak cooked on the open flame
- Homemade sausages the size of fat Cuban cigars
- Breaded chicken cooked in lemon sauce
- Roasted potatoes
- Di zucchini fritte - a crowd pleaser. Breaded zucchini flowers filled with prosciutto and melted cheese
- Roasted vegetables and salad from the garden
- Homemade bread
I seriously don't want this night to end. I don't want to miss a thing. Every bite takes me home. I've arrived. It's the only place my heart longs to be . . . here, now. I'm having the most incredible food affair of my life. I'm in love. My zest for life is rekindled.
Laughter fills the air.
I stand, raising a glass of Chianti and toast our extraordinary hosts and chef. They've done it again. A Tuscan feast for the senses. A world-class meal. I know I've died and gone to heaven.
I glance over my shoulder. Gabry's father is stoking the outdoor fire, preparing the coals for tomorrow's pizza dough. He tosses me a friendly wave. I raise my crystal glass in gratitude. Gabry places a hand on his heart. A tear of pride glistens on his cheek. He slides me a menu for tomorrow night . . . an evening of pizza and wine by the open fire. I glance down. My soul stirs with anticipation.