When my family went on summer vacation, we went for two weeks. We moved from one location–the city–to another location–the country. For a few years my mother went in with her brother, my uncle Ferd, and bought a pick up truck with a camper fixed on top. We drove that around for a while, taking baths in mountain streams that for no logical reason had moving water instead of ice floes. We ate warmish, wettish sandwiches with apples that had been rolling around the mini hallway that measured one foot square, between the door in the back and the bed in the back. Then my mother remembered that she was claustrophobic. Each night we would drive until we found a campground with a parking space for the truck and a lean-to for my mother.
There was a woman at the community sinks who was a tooth brushing olympian. I watched her for a while. “You are the fastest tooth brusher I have ever seen,” I told her. “I have never known anyone who could brush their teeth as fast as you.” “It is easy”, she said.
My mother realized that she was also afraid of bears, and a lean-to only has three walls. My parents sold the camper, and for a few years we went to a house in the woods in Vermont. We had sandwiches that were cold the way they were supposed to be because there was a full on fridge. Every once in a while during the vacation we would go for a ride, but most of the time my sisters and I were left to our own. My oldest sister built a chapel out of tree branches and spruce fronds with a friend of hers. It had an altar and seating. My little sister and I were impressed. We kept to low lying construction. We built villages for ants from moss and twigs. We walked for miles with a packed lunch to see how far we could walk and when we got there, if there was water, we fished with a stick. We caught nothing. We watched beavers build a damn, and water bugs walk like Jesus across the world’s smallest swimming hole. When we were hungry my mother would say, “there is a cookbook. Cook.” I made apple crisp and grilled cheese sandwiches over and over, day after day. We read. I did my hair. We practiced walking without shoes. We were always walking, just never after dark. We didn’t have a curfew; I was afraid of the dark.
By the time we were 14 and 16, I weighed 126 pounds, but I could have taken someone down at the knees just by looking at them, so no one ever looked at us. That was my theory. It was like robbing a house. If a house is well lit and locked up, it is harder to break into; you try the next one. If a girl looks like she might kill you if you talk to her or the sister, you move on to see who else there is. My first two survival skills: how to occupy my time on a dime and how to give an old man a look that will make him wish he forgot to put his teeth in. I have carried them in my pocket all these years like money.
I got an idea for a virtual cooking class. It live streams with a friend of mine and guide on the ground in Italy. I cook, he walks through a village and tells us everything. It is called Dimmi Tutto. Tell me Everything. Ha. On the menu for Fossombrone: Cherry Divine. I made it up. There is a wine from Le Marche from the smallest DOCG in Italy, called Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, a sparkling dry red, mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy. No way we are going to find that, so I reduce a little red wine with sugar and a piece of lemon peel until it is the consistency of Karo syrup and then off the heat, I perforate a few cherries with a fork and throw those in there. Pour a thumb of prosecco in a glass, and then drizzle in to make fake Vernaccia. Drop in a cherry. We move on to crescione, a version of piadina. We stuff it with serious sausage and black cabbage and finish with cantucci with dried cherries, pistachios and if we feel like it, shards of dark chocolate.