2nd Act

My mother has been in the hospital for four months with advanced stages of Cushing syndrome.
Over the weekend she was admitted to the ICU; she lost all vital signs. And then she came back.
She went from lying in the bed to sitting in a chair. She breathed on her own. And she returned to her favorite hospital activity.
“Take a look at the menu of this hotel,” she said. “You can get whatever you want.”
It was a triptych fold out, a menu deluxe. “What have you tried?” I asked her.
“I’ve had it all. The fried chicken is fantastic. The roast beef is very nice, very thin slices and they make it themselves.”
“Mom, I thought you were a vegetarian.” My mother has been a vegetarian for nearly 40 years.
“It doesn’t work out to be a vegetarian at this place. You can’t eat the vegetables.”
One day after Loitering at Death’s Door, her taste buds are fighting for their rights.
She ordered a piece of salmon–no veg–a macaroni salad, blueberry yogurt, two servings of watermelon and a glass of cranberry juice. “It takes 45 minutes from the time you order until it gets here. I can wait.”

When you lose someone

the earth changes in a way that you might hardly notice, but you feel it. Like those pictures in the puzzle books with 6 things that are different. The world keeps rolling, people are still brushing their teeth. It can be sunny outside with storm fronts moving in on the subway. Emptiness can wake you up at night. You can be so full without even eating it will send you to sleep at supper.
I open the fridge and close it. Avocados are hitting their prime in there and walking right on through to past it. Asparagus are sending out shoots from their spears, in the garden.
It sounds absolutely silent.
I am happy for the people that make ice cream.

Taking you back

I had no internet access when I was in Italy, but I wrote anyway, in hopes that the signal would find it’s way to town eventually; like when you invite say, Jamie Oliver to dinner. If he shows up, FANTASTIC! If not, well why would he?

From my first week:

It was Don, a nuclear physicist from Idaho who pointed out the fly resting on the door frame to me, posing as a bee.
“You can tell” he said, “because it has only two wings and a bee has four. Though the body is the shape of a bee, and striped like a bee, there is no stinger and the head is the head of fly.”
Who knew that in Mercatale di Cortona where everything appears exactly as it is, a fly would try to fake it. There is no lo cal ice cream or turkey dogs. Dinner in Italy does not suffer from an identity crisis. We are having pork chops on the bone, grilled over a wood fire with thick slices of artichoke sauteed in the pan. Over each, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and pour of olive oil so good you could drink it.

From my second week:

I changed my name to Sugar Delicious. Who wouldn’t once you knew it was an option? Kay started talking about her friend Sugar at breakfast and I said, if there is such a name as Sugar, I’m just going to have to change my name.” Before we drove off to Montevarchi, where Prada and sugar is available in all its glory, we roasted ourselves a chicken stuffed with lemon, mascarpone, rosemary and garlic. The trick is to tie, season and sear the whole bird first, one side a time to a deep dark golden brown. Push sprigs of sage, rosemary and thyme into the bird with a half a lemon and a whole head of garlic, cut in half. Under the skin, all over the bird, gently slide in a mixture of mascarpone, minced fresh rosemary, and minced fresh garlic, seasoned with freshly ground black pepper and salt. Roast at 350 degrees until a small sharp knife inserted into the thickest part between the leg and the thigh comes out hot to the touch. Serve with a pile of string beans and handmade gnocchi tossed with butter, garlic and parmesan. Finish with a clean green salad, taggiasche olives and chunky croutons dressed with parsley leaves, olive oil and lemon. It’s hard to drive after such a big lunch, but we managed, and walked through olive groves, shopped for Prada shoes and gel, witnessed a thousand cakes being made from a near 60 year old mother batch starter and sat outside in the Bonci garden for dinner. Oh happy day.

I am home

It’s a 4,200 mile commute from Italy to New York and I’m whooped. Food is still what you imagine it to be on Air France, but they pull through with a piece of brie and a decent little baguette. My luggage made it onto the plane in Paris in less then an hour and so did I, like a boogie woogie miracle.
I had two weeks of teaching how to cook from the inside out, which isn’t hard when the sun is shining on your soul, roses are blooming around the kitchen door, wine is flowing, cows are munching on grass and chewing their cud, chickens are legging it around the farmyard and pigs are rolling around under the oak trees the way they should be. Strawberries, tomatoes and cantaloupe are ripened in the fields. Once you taste that kind of love, you can’t help but want more. It’s contagious and addictive and you find yourself committed to foods in their purest form the same way the tide is committed to rolling into shore.