Thursday, July 24, 2008

Soul Food

Food became a huge preoccupation for us at Castello di Pergolato...and we thought this was a knitting and yoga retreat! What happened here? Luise, Meema, and Sybilla that's what. They cast a spell on us that not only kept us at the dining table for about 6 hours a day, but just when we thought we couldn't eat another bite somehow our stomachs started to growl and we headed right back to the table again.

Elizabeth and Meema

Luise is not only the manager of the castle, but she is an extraordinary chef. Every evening she would appear alongside the table to describe the menu to us. We must have looked starved because more than once she let out a low chuckle... One evening she actually gave us a choice in how the Tuscan beef would be prepared. In unison we responded, "Can we have both?!" Yes. Time stood still as we had our secondi piatti and then two rounds of the most succulently prepared steaks appeared as if by magic.

After a day and a half, Suzanne and I began to wonder how we were going to manage for 2 solid weeks eating like this. Every morning everyone met for breakfast which was completely unnecessary but out of sheer force of habit we came to the table. Thankfully, it was simple: homemade breads, scrambled eggs, bacon, the most amazing lemon marmalade that every grocery around seemed to be sold out of, and American-style coffee. We could have skipped this...but why? We needed our coffee, and it's so much nicer when accompanied by a slice of toast with jam. Maybe a little leftover Tiramisu from the night before...or perhaps some yogurt cake? I knew it was getting bad when I noticed my own anxiety after dinner one night when wondering whether or not all the cheese cake had been eaten. "If I get up a little bit early..."

After breakfast, yoga. Ok, some knitting. At last, LUNCH! Just to give you an idea what we were up against:

Mozzarella e speck / mozzarella with ham
Ravioli al burro e salvia / ravioli with butter and sage sauce
Verdure ripiene miste con ripieno misto / stuffed vegetables
Pomodori e cipolline / tomatoes with onions

...this was a typical lunch naturally accompanied by wine and of course, espresso at the end. Who would skip lunch? Besides, we could lounge on the terrace afterwards, float around the pool a bit before... dinner.

All kidding aside, the meals were stupendous. But it was the atmosphere, the conversation, and the care with which they were presented that made them truly memorable. Sitting at the table for 2 hours at lunch and another 2 1/2 hours at dinner doesn't seem that enticing, but time stood still. The conversation, laughter, wine, and music created an atmosphere of celebration that touched everyone of us. Now that the trip is over we have a newly formed group of friends from both groups who have found a common bond over these beautiful meals. Collectively they are recreating and sharing the recipes from these meals.

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