Thursday, July 07, 2005

Ingredients for a perfect Tuscan evening

In Tuscany, we were joined by my mother, my sister and her two children. For our last dinner together, we drove a short distance into the hills to a vineyard restaurant where we ate outdoors on a terrace overlooking a valley.

The most important ingredient for a perfect dinner is people. Family are the best, because they connect you to your own past. They know more bad things about you than anyone else except your wife, and still they show up for the big events in your life.

Children are equally important because they connect you to the future. Their enthusiasm for each new discovery opens the beauty of the moment to everyone within their enchanted circle. Uncertain as to the friendliness of a large white dog, Alexander and I decided to pretend it was a clump of snow.

The ancient hills and valleys add yet another dimension. People have farmed these hills for thousands of years and yet they are in some essential way unchanged. Our Italian hosts charmed us as well with their relaxed pride in the beauty of their lands, the wine they make, the food they grow. Our attempt to do a scientific and restrained tasting of their wines was hampered by their insistence on pouring roughly a half bottle into each glass – after all, it’s for drinking, not just tasting isn’t it?

Finally, there is the food, most of it made with ingredients gathered within a kilometer of where we were sitting. Grilled vegetables, warm bread soup, bright green pesto, hand-made raviolis, quiet conversation, the shouts of excited children, the sun going down, each moment becoming more golden, more clear, until the light vanishes into the trees and the cool night breeze.