"The appetite comes while you are eating."
Even though I’ve been back from vacation for about three weeks now, I find myself day dreaming about our time there. The Tuscan countryside with its rolling green hills, the quaint towns set high on the hill tops, looked like rough-hewn jewels on green velvet is something I could never tire. The narrow cobblestone streets winding throughout the small towns add to the charm and character and is all together lovely. Tiny markets that sold immaculate fruit and vegetables were proudly displayed like a still life painting in wooden crates or tiered baskets were captivating. I’m not sure when I’ve seen so much beauty, my eyes just drank it in, and I’m still savoring the memory.
I learned many new things on our trip and thought I’d take some time to highlight some of them. Most of course revolve around food, but not all. Here are just a few:
1. When eating pizza never use your hands, only a knife and fork.
2. Always make a happy plate. It seemed to annoy them if you left any food on your plate.
3. Never refuse their offer for limoncello at the end of the meal. Generally, it’s a family recipe and it really doesn’t matter if you like limoncello or not, you DON’T want to offend Grandma.
4. And finally, we all decided it’s best that I don’t try to speak Italian. No matter how good I think I sound, it's just wrong on so many levels.
Besides those few lessons learned, I had another profound schooling moment that took a while to dawn on me, it was this idea of lingering around the table. For some reason when I’m at a restaurant here in the states I feel like I’m in a race. It's like a contest to see how quickly I can have my decision for made for what I'm ordering. And then when the food arrives to the table it's a competition to eat as efficiently as possible, with small talk kept on topic, and bullet points seem appreciated. It sometimes feels like they are just trying to turn tables quickly so they can to improve their bottom line.
But what was dramatically different in Italy, was that every lunch and dinner was never rushed. The menu, like a road map, leads you through the meal, almost like the winding cobblestone streets with a surprise around every bend. You begin with an Aperitivo, a small appetizer course such as a small dish of olives, nuts or chesses paired with a light local wine. Then the Antipasti considered a starter, can be slighter heavier. This course may consist of a charcuterie platter such as salame, or prosciutto served with bruschetta, with another wine paring. The Primi is the first course primarily hot food, that may contain fine and luxurious ingredients, such as truffle or seafood. Risotto, gnocchi or soup as all common Primi dishes, and more wine. The Secondi includes different meat and seafood options. Depending on the region, you may have chicken, beef, lamb or various game, and did I say wine? Contorni are served alongside Secondi dishes. These are typically vegetable based, whether raw or cooked. They are served on a different plate than the meat or seafood so as not to mix for the preservation of the integrity of flavors. Toward the end of the meal there is an entire course dedicated to cheese and fruit called Formaggi E Frutta. It is a selection of regional cheese presented with seasonal fruits that complement the flavors of the cheese. For a sweet ending Dolce range from tiramisu to cake to panna cotta. Sorbetto or gelato for a more palate-cleansing option or certain regional specialty desserts such as zeppola or cannoli may be served. Caffe, a strong expresso is served after Dolce, often served without any milk or sugar. And I also found out that ordering decaf is something you DON’T do! To close out this intricate, decadent meal, the final item is a Digestivo, typically limoncello, amaro, or grappa.
And the even after all of that, when the candles had burned down, and the last sip of caffe had been taken. There was no rush to leave the table, we were allowed the luxury of just sitting, for the entire evening letting the conversation take its course, to ebb and flow naturally. This time around the table wasn't solely for eating, although it's what brought us there. It was to relax, recharge and connect with those we chose to invite into this intimate setting.
I was just looking back through my journal about what I learned on this idea of lingering, here is part of that entry:
“This time of lingering around the table in Italy reminded me of my time with the Lord. Lingering in the throne room before the Almighty is full of revelation, clarity, and a renewed sense of purpose and calling. He has prepared a lavish feast and has a spot specifically reserved for me at His table. It is here that I experience delicacies I have never known and all my longings are satisfied. Through prayer this “face to face” with God brings a centering, filling, cleansing, strengthening, and a fresh word. He begins to align my thinking, desires, and passions. It is here where I find true contentment and where this appetite for more of Him is found in the lingering of His presence” -s