What to Eat Election Day 2020

It’s November 2nd, and I’ve been reading M.F.K. Fischer’s How to Cook a Wolf. Written in the throes of World War II when the Ladies Home Journal was bible to middle class housewives and ration cards limited supplies, Fischer puts good food on the table with a chirpiness and sass sure to make anyone smile. In part, it is a cookbook, full of recipes calling for canned consumme and buttered toast. But it also teaches genteel women how to reckon with the wolf, a thinly veiled metaphor for the war, one’s own hunger, and the fear that without a sense of normalcy, all will go dark.

I’m reading Fischer because a month ago, the women in my book club and I decided we’d be too on edge to read something weighty before the election. We needed easy, light, useful. I had never heard of Fischer, but most agreed she’d be a good choice and recipes an interesting alternative to our usual book club picks.

Food, of course, is an important issue in these times of limited grocery runs and skyrocketing unemployment. Whether your cabinets are bare because of fear of Covid, lack of funds, or stay-at-home snacking, most people’s eating habits have likely changed. So, we have something in common with Fischer. We might not be at war in the traditional sense, but the gnawing anxiety that life could be changed forever in the time it takes to boil water certainly is real.

“I’m going to make a cake for election night,” my friend Tara said when the conversation turned to November 3rd. “And there will definitely be wine.” Immediately, I envisioned a three-layered dark chocolate beauty, a full goblet of red beside it, and my friend’s concerned face staring at the TV screen while she bore witness to our fate.

The cake, though, caught me off guard, not because it’s a bad choice but because it brought back into view what Fischer is after throughout her book—what to eat in times of trouble, national trouble, war and pandemic-level trouble.

Since then, I’ve been pondering my election dinner choice. Maybe I should make a Fischer recipe in honor of our shared experience. Should it be comfort food or strengthening food? I might, after all, march the streets for months not sure where my next meal is coming from. Or should it be symbolic: roast pig? Maybe the answer lies in the chakras: warming foods vs. cooling foods. Heft vs. agility. What for celebration; what for dread?

This morning, I settled on something, and it will not be a big aha moment for any of you, but hear me out: corn chowder.

I can already feel your dismay. It is, for sure, the lesser of the chowders. Clam, of course, comes first: New England, Rhode Island, and then Manhattan, followed by corn. But we can’t have seafood on election day—I’d thrown that idea out weeks ago: nothing fishy.

Creamy is good, though, and comforting (and if you don’t do milk, I’ve used coconut milk in mine, pureed with half the corn to add thickness but not weight). Something to ease the stomach and soothe the mind.

Plus, my daughter has been asking for it. She has some memory of a bowl from long ago that’s never been replicated at home, and she’s bummed about it.

In true wolf-cooking fashion, corn chowder is made of inexpensive pantry foods. Potatoes, two bags of frozen corn, an onion, some celery, bay leaf, and vegetable broth. No need to break the bank. If you use alternative milk, it’s totally vegan, which aligns with our environmental concerns.

And, it feels to me to be very American, dating back to the 1880s where its first mention in print was in Mary Lincoln’s The Boston Cookbook. It makes sense for an election night in Massachusetts, anyway.

Corn chowder is impressively yummy too, which is easy to forget when we haven’t given this dish a thought for so many years. Pair it with a slice of crusty sourdough, buttered (what the hell), a beer, hard cider, or glass of white—from Oregon perhaps—without any oak (you will require a libation.) Baked apples for dessert, or go for that chocolate cake.

Fischer, you see, wants us to be happy, even in the most trying of times. Thrift gets us half way there, but pleasure—simple as a lovely bowl of soup—makes it all bearable. And it won’t slow you down.

Whatever you decide to eat this Election Day 2020, make it delicious, fortifying, and different. No more bad tastes in your mouth. No more feeling like your voice doesn’t matter. No more accepting racism, classism, tyranny.

Otherwise, if you let the wolf get you, then you become dinner.

I wish everyone this election peace, happiness, and a world that values kindness above all else.

Election Corn Chowder 2020 (adapted from Food and Wine)


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (vegan) or butter (not vegan)
  • 1 small to medium-sized onion
  • 2 ribs celery (chopped)
  • 1 pound boiling potatoes (about 3 large peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice)
  • 4 cups corn kernels (cut from about 8 ears fresh or frozen)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 quart vegetable broth or chicken broth (not vegan)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups milk (not vegan) or canned coconut milk (vegan)
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • Sour cream (for serving; optional)
  • Step 1

In a large saucepan, melt the oil or butter over moderately low heat. Add the scallion bulbs, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften, about 10 minutes. Stir in the potatoes, 2 cups of the corn, the bay leaf, broth, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

  • Step 2

In a blender or food processor, puree the remaining 2 cups corn with the milk. Stir the puree into the soup along with the black pepper. Simmer until the soup thickens slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Stir in the scallion greens. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream, if using.


Frozen-Corn Variation
If you want to use frozen corn, puree two cups of it with the milk as directed above, and add the remaining two cups to the soup along with the puree. Since the corn is already cooked, it might toughen if it goes in earlier. You could add a pinch of sugar, too.

Becoming Refugees

blue window

Canada is three and a half hours from my house, I’m thinking, as I paint the legs of a used IKEA butcher block table in my new kitchen. I want the legs to match the countertops and for the kitchen to have symmetry and balance—for my family.

It’s been two years since we’ve had our own place. Our little family has had to adjust to the changes incurred from divorce and financial instability, and each of us has had to build our own personal narratives to help make sense of it all, narratives that don’t always match and are often at odds. So, to me, this kitchen matters. I need it to bring us together over and over to nourish our broken spirits and heal our wounds.

I wonder if Justin Trudeau is going to accept refugees from the United States when the shit hits the fan, I think as the white paint sinks deep into the raw wood.

When Trump was elected three years ago, I invited my brother for lunch to discuss our options. Over drinks and a plate of glistening fried shishitos, I asked him how our family could be proactive and leave the country before things got bad.

He sort of laughed and treated the whole matter as if I was overreacting. “We should get our Lithuanian citizenship,” I insisted, “so we can leave when we need to. Trump is bad bad news.”

Our mother is from Lithuania, and as her children, we can reinstate our citizenship because she was forced to escape under duress during World War II. At that time, the Russians were taking over Lithuania under Stalin’s army, and many educated people, like her parents, were being targeted for capture and relocation to Siberia.

My mother and her seven siblings left their country on foot, sleeping in barns and sometimes traveling under blankets in the backs of farmers’ trucks. She remembers hearing bullets spray into the night and seeing cities smoking in the distance. At the age of seven, she was nearly raped on the road when she sat up front alone with a driver she thinks now was some kind of soldier who tried to slip his hand between her legs. When she retells that story, the soldier is very kind because when she started to cry, he pulled his hand away.

Earlier today, I read that federally backed militias are grabbing protestors off the street in Portland, OR and detaining and questioning them for hours without cause.

My daughter is upstairs in her room. She hasn’t had her own room in her own place for a long time. Her first order of business was covering her walls with music posters and stringing a collection of multi-colored lights along the ceiling. At night, her windows glow a neon purple, and if you walk down the street of our small village, you can recognize her teenage comrades by the glowing neon streaming from their windows too.

She says her generation is either going to save the world or abandon it and inhabit another planet as soon as possible, but she’s not sure which yet. She has also insisted on getting a big mirror so she can see herself fully.

I understand completely the argument that change is made when you stay and fight, when you put your body on the line for your country. But I have no such loyalties. My country, like every other country is outlined by false lines that separate the whole human race into puzzle pieces that fit so snuggly together, a whole picture emerges. In my opinion, the picture was complete to begin with.

I know nowhere is perfect and all peoples are plagued by dissonance of one kind or another, that our personal survival narratives keep us from intimate and vulnerable relationships at every level and can cause friction and divide in the name of personal safety—no matter where you are.

I also know that if our country continues down the path it currently is on, our choices will be limited to three possibilities: succumb, fight, or leave—the easiest of which, in my eyes, is to leave. I have no trouble admitting to wanting to take the easy way out, to making the three-and-a-half hour journey to the border with Canada and saving my family from the treachery and violence of a Republican administration that has embraced fascism and aims to drown its citizens in a tyranny this country has never experienced before. The fight will be noble, and I believe it will prevail, but my leaving would be about getting out of harm’s way so my daughter might have a chance to save the world.

And yet, I’m painting this table as Trump reiterates that he might not accept a losing run for President. I am considering my brush strokes as a virus erases all those puzzle-piece lines and reveals the whole disquieting picture: we are all in deep trouble.

It took me two years to get my appointment set with the Lithuanian Embassy. I gathered all the paperwork: passports, my mother’s naturalization papers, birth certificates, marriage certificates, all stamped and translated. The week we were to go to New York and present ourselves to the embassy, COVID hit. A young Lithuanian clerk called to cancel our appointment indefinitely, and my daughter and I went to pick up her brother from college because school was closing.

Since then, one of our passports has expired and we moved—donning masks and gloves—to our new place 45 minutes north, just a tad closer to Canada. This week, I’ll go to the post office to start the passport renewal process, worried that the administration might somehow halt the renewal of passports, making it impossible to leave legally.

But I’ll also likely go get a can of paint for the living room—all the while worried that someone in the store might be sick. I’ll congratulate my daughter on getting into her new high school, which might not have in-person classes come September.

Have I been under-reacting all this time?

I don’t know, and that’s the problem. At this moment in time, the country is in shock and it is in the eye of the storm—a place that looks sunny enough and makes us forget the further damage about to be caused.

I hope the election is clean, that Joe Biden wins, and Trump tells himself he’s better off and disappears from the limelight.

If not, I know I won’t be able to take this table with me. And, one way or another, we’ll all have to learn to let go of a lot of things in order to survive.

May 30, 2020

Image by Douglas Brown



During the 2016 election, a friend said to me: “There’s no one running who represents me.” He was middle-aged, white, with a successful business—hetero, educated, and well-traveled. I thought—What the fuck are you talking about?

Okay, maybe his political views were not represented by any one candidate. But, whose are? When you choose a President, you are not choosing someone who is going to represent you specifically. You are choosing the person most capable of improving the system as a whole, the person most able to weigh everything out and offer fair, just legislation that makes everyone’s lives better.

Yet, so many people think and vote like my friend—even though those people tend to be the ones who have everything they need already.

I want people to be better. But how can they be when we live in a system that insists on competition as an ultimate good? When we are literally competing every day for the money to buy our basic human rights—food, shelter, healthcare— it’s no wonder a “me” society exists.

Thomas Sankara, revolutionary and powerful leader of Burkina Faso, condemned the capitalist system as “structurally unjust and periodically unhinged.” As people fight against the injustice of police officers who regularly murder innocent black people in this country, those words stir the imagination and beg the question: Are we, even on our best days, systemically unhinged?



Yesterday, I saw a picture of a homeless black man holding a sign that read, “When You Are Silent, You Allow Violence.” It made me wince. The last time I heard the phrase Silence=Violence, it was being shouted at me by “R,” a white guy I know with a good job and a nice home.

It’s a long story, but suffice to say R had done something awful to me. When I attempted to speak to him about it, he quickly slid into deeply offensive attacks on my person, attacks that were hurtful, manic, and compulsive. So, I stopped talking to him. It was all I could do to keep myself protected. At first perplexed, then deeply offended, and finally outraged by my silence, he berated me in emails and called me abusive and violent for not returning his calls—even titling one email “Silence=Violence.”

R is the kind of toxic white male who has been given respectful audience and an easy ride his whole life. His free leg up the ladder allows him a sense of entitlement he will fight like a dog to maintain.

But I admit I was surprised by his vicious and aggressive reaction. R is someone who considers himself woke. I know he is marching for Black Lives Matter today. I am sure he is having many energetic conversations about how George Floyd was wronged and about the terrible state of racism in this country. R has a Bernie sticker on his car and attended the women’s march. He will sit at the dinner table and lobby against toxic masculinity in a gentle voice with a look of deep disapproval and concern, an act I bought at first.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Here in western Massachusetts, R lives in a community of mostly Democrats. They feed him, so he stays in their camp, repeats their mantras, and then settles himself in for a life without struggle and with the means to pontificate when he wants.

In his essay “Corn Pone Opinions,” Mark Twain quotes a slave he very much admired who said, “Show me where a man gets his corn pone, and I’ll tell you his opinions.”  The idea is that in a capitalist society, we align ourselves and our values by who gives us our sustenance and self-approval. R is the perfect example. If Republicans fed him, there he would be, the same man doing the same things.

Of course, my silence was not violence, and he was in no danger at all from me. It was absurd. Yet, when confronted with the absurdity of it, R repeated the phrase over and over, as if it was a truth so true I couldn’t possibly understand.

This appropriation of language is right out of the narcissist’s playbook and the same tactic used by dictators and politicians from the beginning of time. James Baldwin wrote about language subversion, “People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.”

Clearly, my silence threatened Rs reality and sent him into a tailspin. But think of All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Like those co-opters who purposely reconstructed the Black Lives Matter slogan to shame blacks for standing up for themselves, R wanted to shame me and rob me of my power. For a moment, it worked. I felt a deep pang as if I had done something truly wrong, and I questioned whether the silence, meant for my own self-care, could be considered abuse.

Today, I watch as so many people try to explain to All Lives and Blue Lives people why their new slogans hurt. It’s an absurd display in which the victims must school the perpetrators about their own hate and abuse.

Words alone are that powerful. Look at how Trump manipulates language. We all know he is doing it, but the language itself is so impactful, we doubt ourselves in the face of it, and its misuse creeps into our consciousness. The two men are the same in my mind, whether they hold up a protest sign or the Bible or whether they are on the top of the biggest heap or just on top of the one I’m on.

I’ve spent a good part of today wondering how R is reacting to the Silence=Violence signs everywhere just now. Does he acknowledge to himself that he stole it and abused it? Or does he march proudly with his chest puffed and his own sign high, knowing he is untouchable?

A few days ago, after many months, R texted me “I love you”—words again used so dramatically out of context, all I could do was shake my head. What could possibly be their use?



I’ve been moved by the recent videos shared by black Americans on social media in which they explain, with such elegance, the truths about racism to a white audience. As an empathetic person who considers herself almost totally white, I cannot begin to understand the full scope of that trauma.

My DNA goes back to Spain and Mexico, but I was adopted and raised by white people. My skin is olive toned, my hair is dark brown, and I do occasionally get reminded that I might not look like the average white person, mostly by men who want to know my “heritage” as they look me up and down. If I have been discriminated against more than that, I have been almost too blind to have noticed.

But I have a 21-year-old son. He’s darker than me with beautiful brooding dark eyes and long curly hair. He looks like he could be Hispanic or Mediterranean or possibly Muslim. He grew up in Greenfield, MA where most people accepted him as white and where he identified, for the most part, as part of white society. But now he’s older, and he tells me that when he walks down the street outside of his hometown, people look at him aggressively. No one smiles as he passes, but they often scowl.

During his first semester away at college in Baltimore, he returned to his dorm room after class to find the campus police searching all his stuff. They said there were reports he was selling drugs, and they interrogated him for three hours. He called me afterwards in tears completely clueless as to why he had been singled out. When I called the administration to complain, they told me he was lucky they didn’t find anything. I called and left long messages on the voicemails of the president and other head administrators for weeks. I wrote emails and contacted the ACLU in Baltimore and was met with more voicemails. My son couldn’t go to class. He was traumatized. And, no, he wasn’t selling drugs.

Luckily, the student body rallied around him, recognizing the injustice, and he found in his friends some great relief.

But two years later, he decided to study abroad in Prague. Study abroad is mandatory at his school, so off he went. Immediately, he was faced with living in an apartment with a group of white kids from California, who had traveled together with the plan of partying till they dropped. My son is an artist, a feminist, and someone whose artist/teacher parents are not rich. In our first phone call after he arrived, he told me with disappointment that his new roommates pumped their fists and hollered every time one of them had to pee and constantly talked badly about women and the Czechs.

He knew right away he couldn’t hang with them. So, alone in a foreign country, he made his way. He figured out where the grocery store was, where he could buy some cool clothes, and where the skate park was while other students participated in school trips and outings, which cost upwards of $500 a weekend, that he couldn’t afford.

One day, he was in the grocery store when he noticed some Czech men standing outside the grocery window staring at him at the checkout. Alerted, he got his groceries, put them in his back pack, and headed out the door, careful to not make eye contact. But the men stopped him anyway, shouting in his face, pushing his shoulder, and making wild aggressive gestures. He was terrified and confused and made his way back inside the grocery store for help. The teller just shrugged, and when he went back out, the men accosted him again, this time pushing him up against a wall.

Eventually, a man in fatigues who spoke English came over. He apparently worked at the store and said that those men worked for him and were just “messing around.” My son cried all the way home, got a fever, and didn’t leave the apartment for five days. Two weeks later, he had a massive panic attack alone in the apartment when all the rich kids had gone away on holiday. Three days later, after reaching out to a girl in his class and sleeping on her couch because he was afraid to go outside, he quit the program and came home to deal with the anxiety the trauma had caused.

Because we live in the safety of the Pioneer Valley, it took us some time to put together the pieces. My son was being targeted because of his color, whether for being perceived as Muslim or hispanic or what I am still not sure. But, like a slow dawning that becomes clearer every day, I realized, with horror, that the world we thought was safe for us is not. I sometimes wake up in alarm now from dreams where he is being taken into custody or beaten on the street because of the color of his skin, those beautiful dark eyes, and gorgeous hair.

What’s worse is I don’t have any advice for him as he goes out into the world. I can’t tell him what tactics disarm white people walking down the street or how to stay alert without experiencing panic or falling prey to one’s self-doubt. With growing dread, my eyes open, and I can feel just a little bit how traumatizing, how utterly crippling it must be to be born black in America.



Three weeks ago, I had another encounter, less traumatizing, but that’s the point. A landlord in Easthampton had an apartment for rent priced much lower than market value. He said he wanted to help single mothers who were struggling financially, a miracle for a single mother of two in a pandemic. But when I met with him, he spent 45 minutes barking at me about all the different ways he could evict me if I didn’t live by his rules, puffing his chest and raising his voice to prove his own value. Literally, 45 minutes without asking anything more than my name. Near the end, he said, “We’re good people. Not Trumpers.” There again: toxic masculinity parading as moral high ground. But this time I saw it. After his display was over, he said we “looked” like good people and could have the apartment. I thanked him, got in the car, and never looked back.


A year ago, I would have given R my ear. A year ago, I told my son he was likely being paranoid while he walked down the street. A year ago, I would have given that landlord my money and bowed to his demands. And my friend who votes for those candidates that serve his interests–is no longer my friend.

The Trump presidency has at least opened my eyes. I can quickly identify examples of toxic inequality when before I let them slide by. I’ve also been lucky that my life is always balanced by the good. In my recent search for a place to live, so many friends reached out to lend a hand. I am always in touch with a kind and intelligent community that teaches me something new about awareness, equality, and generosity every day. I’ve been able to write and feel deeply loved and, besides the coronavirus trips to the grocery store, generally safe. I don’t think this has anything to do with privilege. I think it has to do with the fact that while we all are, at some point, unhinged by the systems we’ve created, many of us are also still holding on to decency and clarity of mind and spirit.

But on this day when thousands march in the streets and white police officers beat them down with tear gas and batons, I want people to be out there and rage. I think rage is a normal and necessary response. I want us to fight like we’ve never fought before for Black Lives and for a full-scale systemic healing and restructuring. It’s what we desperately need.

But to be honest, I don’t know whether I have hope for that or not. Not with so many Rs in the world, not with the kind of complacency going to the hairdresser allows, not with the kind of distrust and competition we deem normal.

I’m reminded of Zora Neale Hurston’s essay “How it Feels to Be Colored Me” when in the final paragraph, she likens human beings to identical bags filled with different broken bits of this and that, all so similar that you could change the contents without any noticeable result.

I’ve loved how that metaphor proclaims our sameness. But today, I think only of the broken bits themselves.






Scintilha, The Libertine Vines of Clos Centeilles

DSC_0613Wine-lovers, I am having a moment. This marks the first review I am writing for Provisions, my favorite wine shop—nay, my favorite shop—here in the Valley. It’s been a mini dream, and what better than to top off my reverie with a bottle of Scintilha, Les Vignes Libertines, a bright, complex, and highly affordable red made by wine maven Patricia Boyer-Domergue from Clos Centeilles in southern France?

Under the Sun with Patricia Boyer-Domergue of Languedoc

I am always interested in female winemakers, especially those working in harmony with nature. Patricia Boyer-Domergue fits snugly into this category. A natural wine maker, all her wines, if manipulated anywhere along the route from soil to bottle are done so on the vine, not in the vat. No chemicals ever. No additional ingredients.

Clos-Centeilles-Patricia-Boyer-Domergue-e1446757797684Imagine a Mediterranean sun bathing 100-year old vines in the unassuming town of Minervois in Languedoc just north of Spain and west of the sea. It’s hot. Stony scrub brush and rock glint under the bright sky where the white-haired Boyer-Domergue is pruning vines in specific angles according to specific elevations, a geometry that coaxes out the flavors she wants in her grapes. There, with her husband and daughter, she meticulously works her 15 hectares, littered with Roman ruins and olive trees, to produce excellent wines with her own twist.

Arriving in Minervois in the late ‘80s after studying enology in Bordeuax, Boyer-
Domergue purchased the ancient plot of Clos Centeilles and reintroduced a handful of indigenous grape varietals back into the locale. Those rare grapes–Picpoul Noir, Oeillade, Riveirenc and Terret Noir—come from rescued century-old vines she tirelessly nurtured for years and have become the mainstay of her vintages, for which she has gained a good reputation. Many of them are made to stand the test of time, so opening a 1990 Clos Centeilles is a serious treat.

And because Minervois and the Languedoc area has long been touted as a place for cheap, sweet wine, the complexity of Clos Centeilles’ is making a mark for the region. In-the-know critics are taking notice, surprised that anything with the depth and energy of Boyer-Domergue’s wines are coming from there.

Scintilha 2015

Scintilha, Les Vignes Libertines, which translates to Spark, The Libertine Vines, qualifies as a unique offering from the Clos Centeilles estate. Here, the grape is pure Censault, usually considered a Rosé grape known for its strong aroma and soft tannins. Popular in the region, only a few producers are using it on its own for reds these days. Clos Centeilles uses it solo in several of their best bottles, but this Scintilha is somewhat of an anomaly—a small batch wine not even available on the estate’s website with a name that suggests these particular vines have a mind of their own. Andy, one of Provision’s resident wine experts, posits perhaps Scintilha is an act of rebellious artistry by Boyer-Domergue’s daughter, now following in her mother’s footsteps.

Drink It Here, Drink It There, Drink It Anywhere

Maybe that’s why I approached it the way I did–admittedly, taking my first sips standing in the middle of the kitchen, stuffing my face with salty almond-flower crackers and smoked goat gouda because I had forgotten to eat lunch and was starving, the bottle staring at me from the counter. Not sure that’s exactly libertine of me since I am never afraid to drink quality wine in the least pretentious of scenarios, but it was liberating. Wine, in my opinion, should fit handily into your everyday whether it’s at the dinner table or not.

In that impromptu pairing, Scintilha was quite good and expressed itself as a balance of opposites. It’s juicy but dry, soft but with hints of pepper and spice, and earthy but bright. The fruit flavors layer dark berries over red ones. There’s minerality too–flint and copper perhaps—as well as a kind of funky woodiness, most noticeable on the nose. This is the complexity I mentioned above. Lots of fun stuff going on here. You can taste something a little different with each sip. With my crackers and cheese, it did not overpower, and the fruit-forward aspect added nice flavors.

Scintilha is also an incredibly drinkable wine, with medium acidity and low tannins, as is typical of Censault. And being a lightweight, earthy red, it’s beyond versatile. I had a couple glasses that first evening with the snacks but finished the bottle off the next night with my friend David over another of my impromptu meals—red pepper chicken sausage with fresh tomatoes and olive oil – this time on the couch watching David’s cat get stuck in the sleeve of the wine bag and reading poems to each other. Libertines!

Scintilha and the spice from the sausage were an excellent pair. The two danced around in my mouth elevating the heat factor. There was a lot of “mmm, this is good” going on between bites. The earthiness deepened the flavor of the chicken while the light weight matched the tomato salad.

But, if you are looking for a wine for a more deliberate sit-down dinner with friends, don’t let my casual approach lead you away. No. Scintilha could also easily hold up to more contemplated, heavier meals. A beef burger with stinky cheese, veggie lasagna, Portobello risotto, or a roast lamb would be amazing with its earth and fruit. And it’s a perfect wine to bring to someone’s house for dinner when you don’t know what’s on the menu.

Finally, if you are a late-night sweet fiend like me, this is a good accompaniment for dark chocolate under a blanket listening to your favorite shuffle list before bed.

The Last Sip

However you drink Scintilha, try to remember Patricia Boyer-Domergue, pruning vines in the sun, picking the grapes by hand, giving you a piece of herself and her ancient land.

It’s so easy to forget these things when we’re bustling about, eating dinner standing in the middle of our kitchens in cold New England, February 2018, so far from hot Minervois 2015.

Name – Scintilha, Les Vignes Libertines
Year – 2015
Vineyard – Clos Centeilles
Region – Minervois, Languedoc, France
Price – $14.99


Can a Wine Love?


A few weeks ago, I ran into an acquaintance who mentioned he’d been reading my blog. To which, I quickly demurred, “It’s just a little thing I’m doing.”

“The stories show you’re looking for connection,” he replied, and my cheeks began to burn.

It’s true. I’m a writer, after all; my job is to look for connections and to connect. What else is metaphor but a line drawn from one thing to another? But, I’m writing more publically now—about myself—which can be a little scary. And having myself reflected back at me by someone I only sort of know—I felt like a found-out child.

So, yes, I confess to looking for connection—between myself and readers, a would-be partner, the planet, the community, etc. And like all great characters in books and in life, through connection, I want to be loved, supported, understood, and know that my life on this planet matters.

One way I’ve been working with this idea is through sharing stories where food and wine intersect with my daily life in complementary and productive ways and where eating and drinking act as connective tissue. I’ve always been interested in fresh, nutritious food and in wine and spirits, but now, for whatever reason, I feel compelled to take my interest beyond the recreational and into the sincere.

And then, this summer, as if the connection gods were speaking to me, I had a radical experience with a bottle of wine. Seriously. A few sips in, and I became aware of something I had never considered: a wine can love the person who is drinking it.

Here. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with MS. It was a blow, but not a total shock. My body had been telling me something was wrong for most of my adult life. In my late twenties, I became one of those young mothers—frazzled, ill-prepared, worried—who never felt good. I walked around in constant pain from a series of seemingly random symptoms and saw doctors of all feathers to no avail. I was told I was “highly sensitive” and what other people could “shake off,” I felt to the extreme. The cure? “Keep yourself busy.” So, on top of working, mothering, and wife-ing my way through my thirties and forties, I also became my own private investigator, watching and listening to my body with obsessive focus—taking notes, keeping records, and testing theories. I learned a lot. But I also lived like a school marm hid inside me, slapping my own knuckles every time I reached for a piece of bread, a hunk of cheese, or a glass of wine. It was exhausting and anxiety-producing.

Who knows? Maybe the fasting helped me get as far as I did without a major MS episode. But around the time my dad died, the ingredients for that first attack arranged themselves like water molecules before the boil. In one year, I left my husband and became a full-time single mom of two kids; my father, suffering from long-term dementia, was put into a home; my mother, in her own grief about my father’s illness, lost touch with reality and railed against me in horrific explosions of hatred; I lost a good friend; my kids suffered desperately the loss of their intact family and threw their pain at me like snowballs at the kid with glasses; and I met a guy who broke my heart. I could barely see straight. And then—intense, halting pain in my head. It wasn’t until the right side of my body went numb—I could literally draw a line from the top of my head to my mid chest—and my father died, that a sports medicine doctor found several lesions at the base of my skull on my spinal cord. It was an unconventional place for MS, but not unheard of, and the reason why it was so difficult to diagnose.

Luckily, the prognosis was good. This was a slowly progressive form; the numbness would ease, and with the right medication, I should be ok. I joked that I was half the person I used to be, that the metaphor of going numb was not lost on me, the poet. But humor nor poetry could mask the truth. I was devastated.

An ever-welling grief filled me and would spill over without provocation in the small moments I had with myself throughout the days: in the car, the shower, sometimes right before I called down the kids for dinner. Usually able to negotiate life’s stuck-out foot with some reserve, this was more than I could temper.

By some kindness, both kids were going to overnight camp for three weeks that summer, so I quickly got in touch with my friend Midge Guerrera and her husband Jack, who live in a small village in the Italian countryside half the year. “I’m thinking of going to Italy,” I told them, “got any good tips?” “Of course!” Midge said, “Stay with us!” A few weeks later, I landed in Milan.

Midge and Jack were excellent hosts, and their small hometown in the Benevento region was a dream. They didn’t ask me many questions about my dad, the boyfriend, or my MS and allowed me to stare out over the quilted hills from the balcony of their home for as long as I liked. They cooked peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini from the large garden adjacent to their place, drove me through colorful villages tucked into craggy hill sides, and took me to al fresco theater and music in the town square with the enthusiasm and pride of perfect guides. There was no shortage of wine either. The two got theirs from the village next door, whose winery had what Midge called a “gas pump wine dispenser” where they’d drive the car up, pay the meter, and wine would come rushing out, filling large jugs for the week.

It was perfect there, but after two weeks, I left and traveled to Rome to spend some time alone and see the sights. Rome is a city of giants. The Vatican, the coliseum, the sculptures, and the theaters were more arresting than I could have imagined. I stood in awe before them, humbled, amazed. But instead of feeling insignificant, I felt as if those skyward characters looked down on me with a kindness I hadn’t known in a long time. Let me be okay, I’d whisper to them at every street corner. Let me make it through this.

In response, Rome gave me every freedom I craved. I woke up when I wanted to, ate when I wanted, read in café’s, walked for hours lost in neighborhoods and parks, went to operas, galleries, sat in a plaza while music played, and ate pasta like it was the last food on earth. I cried freely too. I’d arrive at some extraordinary cobblestone courtyard, the crowds buzzing around me, an ancient church covered in murals beckoning me in, and before I took another step, I’d be weeping.

A week later, I traveled to Florence and immediately rented a Fiat Mini to drive through the Tuscan countryside, visiting wineries and tasting rooms for three days. Having a car was equal to having wings. I drove with the windows wide and leaned out over the sea of vineyards as if I was a bird. The Tuscan countryside is a cognizant creature, communicative and kind with its sewn dress of red soil, grape vines, and olive trees, a light mist lazing between its thighs. Like with the gods of Rome, I felt cared for and watched over by that landscape. I’d stop the car at one of the many vistas, step out on the edge overlooking the hills, and almost hear the words Lay your heart over these fields in the wind.

The wines fueled me too, but never in a desperate or drunken way. In fact, they grounded me. And from small patios overlooking the hills to cafés in medieval villages, I let myself drink and sink into a comfort my body had forgotten—no one and nothing tugged at my sleeve or nagged my mind, and my body felt just fine, giving me space to come to terms with the MS, the loss of my parents, and the new life ahead.

A week later, I went back home to the kids, to my mourning mother, to a series of MS treatments. But I was much more relaxed than when I left, which helped me to stand in the still-ruddy surf more steadily. I eased up on all the food restrictions, drank more wine, and let life to take its course. Some people attributed my feeling better to being out of a bad marriage, others to the relief that my dad had passed on. I felt the change was my Tuscan wings still intact. Life was still tough, but the waves of grief had subsided, replaced by a cautious optimism, curiosity, and eventual, yet still precarious, happiness.

Exactly two years later, the sommelier at my favorite wine shop invited me to a Tuscan wine class. Tuscany, I thought, when the teacher brought out the sampling wines for the evening, how I’ve missed you.

Part of my earlier investigation revealed that I am sensitive to red grapes, so I have become a white wine connoisseur. But in Tuscany, I can drink both reds and whites without fear because most wines are produced naturally by small producers more interested in letting nature speak for itself than applying chemicals and techniques that burden the drinker.

One of those producers is Elisabetta Faguilo, a veteran winemaker behind Montenidoli, the mountain of the little nests, 24 hectares of vineyards and 200 hectares of woods just outside the ancient village of San Gimignano, where I had heard groups of old men singing deep into the night.  She and her husband Sergio, a philosopher and teacher, purchased Montenidoli in 1969 with the vision of starting a vineyard, which she ran with a reverence and respect akin to a spiritual practice. Fifty years and nine children later, Elisabetta is a well-known producer with a reputation as a fierce proponent of not just natural winemaking but of human connection. This quote from her website says as much:

We all feel a strong need of unity and comprehension.
We want to break our solitude, opening to a wider vision of friendship and common feelings. Seeking for the same sensibility towards the concrete and mystical world of our human condition.
(click here to watch a video of this amazing woman as she speaks about her work, her philosphies, and her land)
(here too)

And now that Sergio has passed and Elisabetta is well into her seventies, she has started a foundation in his honor that invites elderly and young people in need of help to come stay at the winery and reap the benefits of the land. First farmed by the Eutruscans, followed by the Romans and the Knights of Templar, in Elisabetta’s eyes, Montenidoli is a sacred place where history and the calcium-rich soil left by the Ligurian Seacan can heal those who walk upon it in addition to creating perfect grapes.

But I didn’t know all this when I walked into the wine class. When the instructor poured a taste of the Montenidoli Fiore, a white wine made with vernaccia grapes, I thought, yay, white. But as soon as I tasted it, I had to stop and recalculate. The wine was delicious, but it was more than that. Lightly imbued with gold, it has the distinct smell of marijuana, pineapple, mango and green grass. Robust, complex, and more full-bodied than an average white, it held layers of earthy and fruity depth that—well, there is no other way to describe it—as I sipped, it was as if someone was reaching out to me from the other side of the glass. You are part of the earth, it said, and from the earth, you shall blossom. After the third taste, I got up, went to the ladies’ room, and wept.

All the difficulty of the past few years spilled out of me again, but not because I was overwhelmed by the pain but because I was overcome by my own strength to have moved through it alone. I know it sounds crazy, but Elisabetta and her determined, kind spirit mixed with the ancient and profound energy of the Tuscan soil held me like one might need their mother to hold them. From inside the glass, they whispered to me like the wind had whispered to me during my trip and like I had wanted the statues of Rome to respond. It was a profound and eye-opening moment. Connection exists. Food and wine is connective tissue when created in harmony with nature, with the love and determination of the farmer, and the reverence and deft hand of the winemaker, the chef.

Let me wax philosophical. If we believe the earth has the power and the selfless desire to feed those creatures who live upon it (and who, essentially, are part of it), and we believe that a soil in balance with nature will produce a fruit embedded with the same power and desire, and we agree that a master winemaker who cherishes the earth and what it offers can transform that fruit, with her own sense of love and understanding, into a beautiful wine, then we must believe that the wine itself is imbued with the same capacity to love those who drink it.

So, there is Elisabetta. There is her land, the Eutruscans, the Ligurion Sea, her nine children raised on that land, her love, her Sergio, her desire for peace. And here is me, cautiously optimistic, becoming aware of my need for connection, opening up, letting go, listening, and raising children too. We are sisters on this planet. And between us, a glass of wine.

That’s a neat little bow isn’t it?

But that isn’t the complete story. After the class, I bought a bottle of the Fiore, excited to invite friends over for a dinner so I could share this wine and spread the word. But as life goes, no one was around, the kids didn’t want to have a bunch of adults over, and I was tired and busy. I ended up settling for a plate of homemade potato salad in the back yard with a glass on my own in the dead of summer. I could still feel the expression of Elisabetta’s love and work, but this time, after drinking a glass, I got a huge headache and felt like crap.

Which leads me to the problem of disconnection and a sense of powerlessness that comes with it. I have a chronic illness. Somewhere along the line, something in my system went off balance. Maybe I made connection with something unsavory. Maybe I was too busy too many times to meet the points of positive connection in my life. Maybe I fell off a swing and never truly recovered. Or maybe there is no reason. Regardless, the road back is nearly impossible, and sometimes I wonder why even try? Today, I heard on the radio, a young man in the deep south explaining why he didn’t vote—because it doesn’t matter, he said. I heard my daughter talk about how reading a book twice was a waste of time. I totally understand. It’s so easy to be stuck in places where we can’t imagine the benefits of reaching toward something or being open enough to reckon with a piece of art of any form.

Even though I try, I only sometimes get it right. I chase things that can’t connect, I stop short of true connections, I eat food that is made without care. Balance and harmony are so hard to come by, we have whole fields of science and mysticism devoted to them, and still I fail. But how else will we know that a story about how a grape in Tuscany meets a woman writing in Massachusetts means a line on page 70, read twice, wriggles its way deeper into your consciousness, means a single vote matters, and means a disease can be cured?

I don’t know how else. Yes, I am finding connection in a bottle of wine and in many other places as well. When I find it, the skies light up and suddenly I live in a place so much more magnificent. Being open, or as Elisabetta says, emptying ourselves, is all any of us can do.

Oh, and try the Montenidoli Fiore. I highly recommend it.





Feed the Birds

silhouette of woman sitting on window watching birds flying
Photo by Artem Mizyuk on Pexels.com

It’s July, 2018, and here in western Massachusetts we’re in the middle of a heatwave—98 degrees every day this week and the humidity is traumatic. Everyone is pasted with a gluey sweat. In my house, we have only one air conditioner, in the living room; the rest of the house is purgatory—you just have to sit there and wait it out while hot, dead air fills your lungs. It’s also the week the kids and I move out of the house we’ve lived in for the last 13 years, so we are weighed down, too, by impending loss. Boxes line most of the walls, we sit at makeshift chairs, the dining room table is gone, the couch, and I’ve packed all but four plates and four mugs for us to use in the coming days. Not to mention all the objects we’ve connected ourselves to over the years are sold or thrown away now: the stuffed animals, picture frames, blankets, trophies. Last week, we had a big party; friends and family came to say goodbye to the house and reminisced with us in ritual fashion—here is where we had the crib, here is where the hamster is buried. It was good, but over now. The kids and I are mostly quiet, as I imagine most souls are in purgatory, as we pad through these final days waiting for whatever comes.

Just 40 miles south is my brother’s house, a huge Victorian with plenty of room to share with me and the kids. While this is technically a lateral move, a part of me feels I failed. That dream I once had about cultivating a traditional kind of home and family seems to have been just a dream, the model itself misguided and nearly impossible to maintain. Their father is gone after the divorce, I can’t afford the house, or any house, on my own, and though there is no reason to feel ashamed—we have accomplished a lot in the last 13 years—we leave with our heads slightly bowed.

During this time, I find myself stopped in the heavy heat thinking about my father, specifically how I inherited his fascination with birds. Besides being a brilliant mathematician—one of those who hunches over a notebook scribbling equations far into the night—he was an avid bird lover, not the kind who knows all the names of all the species and subsets of birds or mimics their calls or travels any distance to spy them with binoculars. My dad appreciated birds as fellow beings, creatures who flew, sang, mated for life, and built nests. They’re not so different from us, he would say with his eyes towards the branches. Forever inquisitive, he’d ask What do you think they are thinking?

My father, for all his brains and accomplishments, was a gentle person, and as such, admired the tiny-ness of birds, their frailty, as if in frailty was tenderness and inside tenderness, a whole universe.

Growing up, there were several bird feeders nestled in the trees of our yard and one hanging in front of the large picture window in our living room so that all year long we had a bird-viewing station 24/7. I would lie on the couch and watch them feed for hours in the lazy eternity of my youth, no kids to play with in the neighborhood, done reading my books for the day. In winter, my dad, even when he was fully whited-out by dementia, would put on his moccasins and, without a coat or hat, go outside to fill all the feeders and scatter seed on the snow, in case the squirrels or the larger blackbirds needed some. That is my clearest image of him now, his silhouette against the gray sky ankle-deep in snow, throwing what seemed to me to be tiny care packages—like those thrown from planes during famine. As a scientist, he understood his membership in the great web that connects everything, and he knew this small act of feeding the birds could have rippling effects.

When he was about 53, my dad lost his job as an aerospace engineer. He came into my room when I was a distracted fifteen years old and told me the news. I think there had been a number of terminations for budget purposes, but I also knew my father was generally misunderstood. He was brilliant but lacked social acumen, which kept him an outsider in office politics and probably made him an easy target for a lay-off. Normally gregarious and proud of his work, that day, seated on my red beanbag chair, he was introspective and asked what I thought he should do. I told him this was an opportunity to do something new or to go back to teaching, a job he loved when he was younger. I remember my hopeful earnestness that day, how, from the perspective of youth, I believed the future was his if he wanted it. He agreed, but with less enthusiasm. After some time, he did manage to land a teaching job at the University of Connecticut, and I think he enjoyed it. But it didn’t last long, and within five years, he retired.

The loss of his job didn’t cause us to move, and my life didn’t change, really, other than I watched my father slump into a depression in retirement. Seated in the driveway of our wooded property for hours watching the birds, he openly lamented his lack of usefulness in the world. It was hard to witness. He was a man who had worked on space stations, studied acid rain, worked on the first computers. I’m going to die soon, he’d say, I can feel it. And when I die, I want to come back as a small bird.

Despite such predictions, my father lived there in that house, feeding the birds and reading books till he was 80. He wasn’t always depressed either. Over time, he became resigned to what he thought of as the most important time of his life being behind him, and he found happiness in small things: the birds, of course, but also nature of all kinds, the tiniest blade of grass to the awesomeness of the planets. Then came the slow onset of dementia, which he suffered with for nearly ten years.

I’m five years younger than my dad was when he lost his job, with much fewer achievements. And here I am in the backyard of my soon-to-be ex-home writing in my blog, which I aptly named “Why Are the Birds Here?” That question looms today. While birds begged scientific and wondrous musings from my father, for me, they arrive as various metaphors or as messengers with the sole purpose of guiding me, my father somewhere deep inside each and every one.

The ability to fly, clearly, is their most compelling feature. As humans, we try to imagine the sheer freedom flight brings and how that kind of freedom would change how we feel about the world and ourselves. We’ve created facsimiles, yes, but we all know it’s not the same. Yet birds, who need not be bound by anything because of flight, temper their freedom with nesting, mating for life, and traveling in community. These two ideas: the desire for freedom and the importance of home and family are what I am toggling between today. Am I creating more freedom in my life by letting go of old notions and by pulling myself away from relationships that don’t serve? Am I building a good nest and tying myself to community in a way that benefits my children and me as we grow older and change? I think I am. I hope I am.

The other question I have is did my dad do these things? And if he didn’t, did they lead to his depression and dementia? One can never know if one predetermined the other, of course, but if a bird stops flying, what happens to it? If a bird is alone, how does it change?

Studies of island birds show that once a bird is no longer in danger from predators or from lack of food, it slowly and naturally loses the ability to fly. Danger, it seems, encourages flight. Lack of danger brings birds to the ground, and the ground has enormous pull. The science also shows that take-off is the part of flying requiring the most energy and muscle, and when birds are not scared or in need, the intensity of take-off diminishes, therefore reducing muscle mass. Diminished wings and elongated legs follow.

I think it’s true that my situation is different from my dad’s. As a divorced mother who spent much of her married life earning less than a living wage so she could care for children while her partner earned their keep, the danger of poverty and homelessness is very real. I need to leave this house, I need to get to the next, better place or else something bad will happen. Mating for life didn’t work out in my case. But, my father had my mother who still worked and kept the home running, so his basic needs were always met, and he did not need to flap furiously to find alternate accommodations to keep us all well. Could this lack of danger have been the thing that stopped his forward motion? Could mating for life have hindered him instead of let him grow?

I’m sure the answer is not that reductive. Mating for life, in humans, has its positives and negatives. And one certainly can be in more danger inside a marriage that out of it. So, what are the birds telling me about marriage? It’s not clear.

But birds also require their flock. Being in a flock reduces threats of danger and provides community. In turn, community provides well-being. Many studies show that when birds are kept as pets alone in a cage, for example, they develop all sorts of mental disorders. Experts say the squawking and pecking intrinsic to pet birds are symptoms of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

When I was married, my husband slowly alienated himself from our friends, blaming his work, which took up a significant amount of his time and energy. When we divorced, after a brief stint with his sister, he lived alone in a small apartment, opting only to see the kids for a few hours a week. Soon he complained of intense loneliness and became extremely agitated and angry. It’s clear now, three years later, that his mental capacity has severely diminished. He often doesn’t make cohesive sense when he speaks and his logic is crooked and turned around. This has caused him to make financially bad decisions, and he has taken up residence in a romantic relationship that is volatile and draining.

Although my father was not left alone by the loss of his job by any means, he did, like my ex, become detached from community when he became a family man. And with his work and colleagues gone, his world became a lot smaller. A scientist and intellectual, he spent most of his free time in his head, which I am sure was a brilliant, amazing place, but he was largely alone there. I hate to admit it now, but when he attempted to share that world with his family, pointing out the intricacies of the clouds or the potential of harnessing the speed of light, we were not fully able to appreciate it, having our own lives to lead. Not being as brilliant and creative as he was, we were also entrenched in a kind of linear thinking that mocked the wondrous notions he shared.

He didn’t become angry. My dad was not hard-wired for anger, but perhaps we could label it disappointment, and eventually, he lived as if on his own island alone. In this way, it’s easy to connect the dots from loss of job to an aloneness that brought on the depression and, ultimately, the dementia. It’s easy, too, to understand why he wanted to come back as a bird when he died.

Luckily, perhaps because he did have a loving family, my father never lost his desire to be a part of the connected universe. He fed the birds for as long as he could, and he died sitting outside underneath the trees.

For a while, a single cardinal called my backyard home. I’d watch it stand on the lawn a few feet away from a squirrel and think how lovely it was the two lived so harmoniously, the ratty, squabbly squirrel and the brilliant bird, and how lucky I was just to witness them. I’d watch the cardinal during winter too, its red feathers blazing against the snow, and think about the beauty in that juxtaposition and of how my father’s beautiful mind was blanketed with white in dementia but for the birds. Of course, I’d think maybe it was my dad come to watch over me, his wish come true, but I never stayed there long. In fact, it probably wasn’t a single bird at all but a family of birds all a part of a meaningful infrastructure dependent on all of us to survive.

Now, here at the edge of my own newly imagined future, I am so grateful to have been in danger and to be experiencing lift-off, as it were. I am grateful, too, for my brother and his fiancé who instinctually opened their nest because they too understand that inside tenderness is the whole universe, like a great net that holds everything together, and how one small act of tenderness has rippling effects.


Fived-Eyed Fox, the Perfect Remedy

Five-Eyed Fox

The day after my evening meal at Bistro Le Gras, I had a coffee sit-down with my friend Jamie Berger to talk tutoring for my daughter. (If anyone needs a writing or SAT tutor, he’s your man.) Jamie and I have a lot in common: we’re both writers, teachers, tutors, and freelancers on the hunt for new gigs in western MA and beyond (hint hint). We also often see each other at my very favorite local oasis, the Five-Eyed Fox in Turners Falls, MA, computers in hand.

I love the Five-Eyed Fox because, above all else, it’s light-filled and inviting; think big windows and cozy wooden tables where you can chase away the hours working on a project while drinking coffee or having an elegant, yet unpretentious meal, with a fine ale or cocktail. Perched above a tree-lined street, the space is a cross between a casual French bistro and your laid-back western MA coffee shop, wide open and not cluttered with tables, board games on the shelves, an old-style soda shop counter, good music, and exceedingly friendly service. One might accuse it of being hipster because the staff is young and fashion-forward, but it’s a neighborhood joint done right, with chefs who obviously know food, which includes everything from breakfast (on the weekends) and coffees to the before-mentioned gourmet dinners and drinks, everything locally sourced. Their menu easily ranks with the best in the area. And they use Jersey cow milk from a local creamery (can’t remember who) in their dishes and coffees. I am allergic to Holstein cow milk, so I indulge in dairy when I’m here. Different varieties of cows have different proteins in their milk, in case you were wondering.

Jamie and I met at 11 and sat by the large window overlooking the small deck, which overlooks a quiet side-street in downtown Turners. Sitting outside is another one of my favorite things, but it was still pretty sticky out, and inside felt perfect.

Because of my two glasses of white burgundy the night before, my temples were throbbing, and I wasn’t sure what to order. A full lunch would be too much, but a coffee not enough. I even considered one of their bloody Mary’s—no bottled mix here—but voted against it. Plus, I confessed to Jamie that right before falling into a tipsy sleep the night before, I had gotten online (oh no is right) and accidentally sent a big blue thumbs-up to a guy I have a major crush on but who doesn’t have the same crush on me. I realized my mistake a few minutes before heading to the Fox and was feeling dumb and embarrassed as well as hungover. The pit of my belly tightened every time I thought about it.

This particular crush had lasted way longer than it should. It is June now and in January, this guy and I decided together not to see each other anymore in the exact spot where Jamie and I sat. By candlelight and over drinks and dinner, we had admitted how much we liked each other but also talked about how much he wasn’t ready to get involved, which was true and smart for many reasons, and I knew it. But STILL. We left the restaurant and had one final passionate goodbye kiss in the car before he dropped me off. A couple of months later, I broke the silence and sent him an email. We’ve seen each other a couple of times since then, but nothing but a nice lunch chat and a big bear hug came of it. You’d think I’d be over it by now, but no, he’s there in the back of my mind all the time, no matter how hard I try to push him out. It’s a problem. And now, a big blue thumbs-up, and he hadn’t responded…shoot me now.

Our server, Kelsey, came over and recommended the cold sorrel soup, which sounded like a perfect remedy. Mind you, I barely know what sorrel is, but it didn’t matter; she had me with cold and lemony. Jamie had bacon and toast, which might sound boring, but here, the bacon is superior and the toast is basically the best thing you’ll ever eat, so…

I was expecting a puree (to match my ego), but this soup was a pudding—light green, creamy and lemony with a swirl of crème Fraiche on the top—served in a jar with their homemade baguette (the same as Jamie’s toast, which they bake in-house), a graceful dish served with rustic charm. I found myself digging in like a ravenous bird, tearing off pieces of the bread and dipping it into the pudding while trying to stay focused on the task at hand…talking about my non-existent love life and the chicken dance that is dating in your 40’s, and the tutoring thing too. I don’t eat bread usually, but when I break my fast, it is almost always for Five-eyed Fox baguette. I’ll nibble some bread here and there on my travels, but I only eat whole pieces here. Anyone who is gluten-free but for the occasional cheat, cheat with this bread. There is no other.

After the soup, I opted for an espresso and a big glass of fizzy water while Jamie pointed out that the issue with my crush was all just fun in the end, an adventure. It is nice to be in a place in my life where flirting, and liking someone, and making dating faux pas is possible, whether or not it turns into anything more or not. Jamie recommended I just enjoy it for what it was, a fond memory and a silly mishap. He was right. Despite the occasional stomach ache, dating has a playfulness I embrace, and I am sure I’ll continue to trip my way through it, without and without grace, for a while.

I felt better. The light through the window, the good company, sorrel and bread in my belly had me feeling myself again. It was 1 by the time we left. I went to tell my daughter she’d have a tutor all summer, and Jamie sent me blue thumbs-ups all day to ease my pain.

Chapter 2–The Pinks


The phone call was from Anna’s daughter, frantic and full of blame. Apparently, the realtor dead-bolted the door, and the girl had to climb through the window to get in. It was a travesty if we are to take the girl’s tone as any indication. And when was Anna getting home, she wanted to know. The girl was hungry.

Tucked in the corner of the meeting room, a wine glass in one hand, the phone in the other, Anna whispered that she would come home, but the girl would have to eat the leftover pizza in the fridge. Where are you? her daughter asked. At the wine shop taking a class. Oh.

Anna made her apologies to the small group gathered in the basement of the wine shop—an assemblage of academics, retirees, and college students on dates—and grabbed her things to go. It was too bad; she’d only been able to taste the whites before the girl’s call and had been half-way into a conversation with Tom, the environmental scientist who sat beside her, about the power of positive farming. He had been so enthusiastic, and she was having fun, which was rare these days.

“It was nice meeting you,” she whispered to Tom, hoping to sneak out as quickly as possible. But as she turned, he stood and, without ado, handed her his phone number.

“In case you want to talk again about the food community,” he smiled. He was taller than she expected, more like a tree than a man, and somehow more handsome now than that he was looking down at her with a warmth she hadn’t noticed before.


Outside the shop, it was night, and the streets were empty. Spring had just arrived—such a relief after the desperately long winter—but the air was still cool. Slightly tipsy and therefore dreamy, Anna walked the few blocks through town to the parking garage. A glowing womb, she thought, as she floated through it like a small cell in an all-knowing universe.

Her car was at the far end of the third level. From the stairs, she saw it alone under the florescents. On cue, she dug into her bag for the keys. No, not there. She dug some more, stopped, and peered in. Turns out the keys were in the car, on the seat, with the doors locked. Anna eyed them through the window. How could it be, Anna mused, that she and the keys were less than a foot away from each other and yet, there was no way to reach them. She called her daughter, who was still caustic even though she was watching television and munching her pizza, and said she was going to be late. The girl moaned. Then Anna called AAA, who said they’d be there in an hour.

Settled on the bumper, her legs thrust out in front of her, Anna realized she had to pee. Tempted to go back to the shop, she gauged her urgency. Maybe she could use the toilet and catch a taste of the reds before AAA came. Tom would still be there. Her phone rang. It was Anna’s mother complaining that her microwave was on the fritz and did Anna know of any handymen. Anna spent the next hour on the phone identifying the problem with the microwave and listening to the play by play of her mother’s day.

When she arrived home, the girl was laying on the couch tucked into herself and watching a show about salmon. She had missed her mother, so Anna sat beside her and rubbed her arm. An hour later, the two were asleep on the couch. Somewhere around 4 am, Anna woke up. The electricity was out, and she moved them both to their rooms, the two walking through a thin soup of dark, extending their arms in front and to the sides of them, Anna giving directions along the way: there’s a step here, watch out for the chair. The girl complained, so Anna tried to make a game of it. Close your eyes, she told the girl, and see with your ears and skin. The child moaned.

Anna awoke at 6:00. The problem with the electricity had been resolved. She woke her daughter with a light kiss on the forehead and by rubbing her back. The girl kicked at her sheets and rolled over. Then breakfast and driving the girl to school, which would undoubtedly entail a lot of eye-rolling and huffed hurrying on her daughter’s part. Anna was used to it.

The girl, in her twelve-year-old mind, had been extracted from a fairytale and plunged into a TV dinner was how Anna thought of it. Twelve is hard enough, but her parents had just gotten divorced, and now her teachers were after her for not doing her homework. Anna fielded emails and phone calls from exasperated faculty all week. The girl’s father was MIA, Anna explained, and she was selling the house. How much could they expect the girl to take?

Do you have a lot of homework, Anna would ask. Can I help? What would you like for dinner? She got no more than grunts and the girl flinging her limbs around as she flew through doorways and away from her mother.

Despite all this, Anna remained sure. The girl would be ok. Plus, Anna was writing. The wine project, suggested by her agent, was taking shape. In fact, she had written a whole chapter in the last few days. It had been such a surprise. She sat down at the computer and a few hours later, a nearly complete first draft emerged. It wasn’t just that she had written, it was how she had written, eyes nearly closed and as if a flock of birds had awakened inside her and bolted for the sky. That was how the week progressed: her steadfast mothering peppered with choking out birds with great speed.

Saturday was Rosé All Day at the wine shop, and her daughter had been invited to a friend’s house overnight. Anna was excited. This wine thing allowed her to be someone else for a short time. Maybe she’d treat herself to dinner out after. Maybe Tom would be there.

Unfortunately, it was raining and 45 degrees outside. So much for spring. And as she drove, Anna’s throat began to hurt and her nose clogged. The shop was jammed with eager tasters, all crowding around several small tasting tables situated about the shop. It was an elbows and excuse-me kind of busy—pink wines in every glass and rows of pinks on the tables. The rosés were not what she wanted. She could tell that from the beginning. The grapefruit and peppery ones were too bitter and spicy for her throat, and the more buttery of them didn’t quite meet the day. Anna wanted comfort. A disappointment welled inside her. That happened sometimes, but she knew to suck in her belly and hold herself as upright as possible so as not to give in.

She edged her way to the tables and tasted the wines in order. She commented, made jokes, and grinned her way through. Once the pinks blossomed inside her, a feeling—wiry and buzzy—forced her shoulders to rise toward her ears and her smile to widen. She found herself both at one with the swirl of the store, moving gracefully amongst the crowd, glass in hand, and outside of it, peering in. The sadness wasn’t gone, just dulled, which was fine. Anna needed to feel good. Men and women leaned into her, made random chitchat, and she responded with finesse.

Halfway through the tasting—Anna was at the third table, beaming now—she noticed one of her daughter’s teachers across the shop. He was in his mid 40’s wearing an oversized suit jacket and faded jeans and was accompanied by his wife, a less than noticeable woman who, if Anna remembered correctly, had just had a baby. When the teacher saw Anna, he raised his glass—the stuff about her daughter could stay in school. His wife, however, stood behind him and stared blankly in Anna’s direction with the look of someone who knows there is no way out.

Then it was as if the shop became a river, and all the tasters, except Anna and the wife, flowed merrily as part of the rapids. The woman, young, plain, stood amidst the revelry fixed in silent memorial. Anna felt a sharp pang in her throat, and as if a fight were about to break out in her belly.

Her phone buzzed in her bag. It was her daughter.


artwork by RCornelius


Cultivating Happiness at Bistro Le Gras

It was Friday, hot and humid, and I had my new wide-legged flare pants on and a date with my friend David to get food and hang out in Northampton, MA. Feeling kinda snazzy in my new duds and platforms—yes, I am a 48-year-old woman still wearing platforms (and still using the word snazzy)—I redirected his suggestion of sushi at the local okay place and lured him into the oft-praised Bistro Le Gras for something a little more special.

Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve decided I don’t want to eat just anything anymore, I want to eat something good. Write one food review, and I’m a total snob. But it’s not about snobbery, is it?

I’m a divorced single mom with a chronic illness in her late forties (yikes, I know), which means my willingness to compromise my own happiness is limited. I am especially no longer willing to feel eh about experiences I cultivate myself. Eating is one experience I can control, and I want food grown with integrity, lovingly prepared and attended to, eaten with reverence, and enjoyed with friends. Eating this way promotes an overall wellness, in my opinion. Sure, hunger alone could drive me to a McDonalds or a family gathering might land me in an Applebees, but guaranteed I’ll feel like shit afterward. And I’m done feeling shitty.

I hadn’t been to Bistro Le Gras in several years, but they have a good reputation in the farm to fork community in western MA. The menu, a solid offering of relatively conventional fair, changes weekly, and they make everything in-house, applying their modern French approach to every dish, even when the dish is not typically French. I remembered an ambiance-rich little place with well-dressed servers, bottles of nice wine waltzing by, and people at the bar clad in casual but stylish clothes talking intimately with their friends over appetizers and glistening glasses, which totally appeals to me. Plus, I wanted a decent wine badly, and there are not that many restaurants in town with a good list, so this was one of my only choices.

David was game, and even though it was a little above our budgets and we were not out for a full-stop four-course meal, we sauntered over in the heat looking for some respite. Despite no reservations and the full bar at 7:30, we were quickly led to a small table in the corner, dark and close. No blast of air-conditioned air here, by the way. We were comfortable but still warm until we adjusted.

Since friends are an important part of the cultivated dining experience, let me introduce you to David, a friend I made post-divorce. He’s a seriously smart artist and writer turned coffee roaster with an odd wit and a sweet soul. We like each other a lot and even dated for about a week over a year ago. But what’s great about David and I is we are dedicated to building a strong friendship, so when we get together, it is always a pleasurable give and take whether we are wining and dining or out on an errand. While I was married, friends were hard to come by. My ex was an introvert who preferred his free time in front of the TV watching Hoarders and eating rolls of chocolate chip cookies. Unhappy wife that I was, I desperately longed for nights out on the town with good company. Sometimes when the kids were asleep, I’d sneak out and get a glass at the local bar just to remember what it was like. But it’s hard to sidle up to a stranger, and the wine was never great. All this to say, being here with David felt like a miracle if I used my old self as a gauge. Plus, he knows everything about wine and is officially my new tutor. He’s worked at vineyards in Oregon for years, and although his new thing is coffee (he’s about to launch Oddfellow Coffee), he’s like a walking wine encyclopedia.

Surprisingly, David rarely drinks, but he will sample mine, slurping and swishing with gusto, which always makes me laugh. I ordered a simple white burgundy from the Macon Villages in the southern Burgundy region of France: the Pascal and Mureille Renaud. Basically, it’s a chardonnay, and I’m not always a fan, but from that region, chardonnays are lovely. This was full-bodied, complex and bright. Normally about $17 a bottle, I enjoyed it as David and I swirled and slurped like pros. I ended up drinking two glasses.

Otherwise, we decided to keep things simple. David ordered the hamburger and pommes frites and I a basic salad and steamed mussels.

It seems to me if you’re going to order a burger and take in all those fats and calories, let them make you drop to your knees. This burger, made from dry-aged River Rock Farm beef from Westport, MA, was as close as I’ve had in a long time. With nothing to cover its nakedness but a little gruyere and a hint of Dijon, the meat, perfectly seasoned and medium rare,  became the star. That first bite, Oh My God!! I’m sure I groaned. I’m a true believer in the soft-bunned burger over a towering hard roll so many places use for the ooohs and ahhs. Those buns are almost always dry, too chewy, and way too big. Our mouths are not that wide, people! This brioche bun was so soft and doughy, it sank into the meat. The frites, unfortunately, not so good–more like potato sticks than fries. I like the feel of soft potato in my mouth.

My salad consisted of a plate of lush greens (I’m sure from a local garden. This time of year, local salad greens throb with freshness) dressed in a white wine vinaigrette. I think this was a typical French vinaigrette because it’s the same I had in restaurants in France—made with white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and sometimes shallots. The combo of Dijon with white wine vinegar gives the dressing a pop, almost like a sharp cheese has been shaved into it. With such basic ingredients, you’d think everyone would make this vinaigrette all the time, but no. We’re a nation of ranch dressing lovers, and it must stop.

And the mussels—each open shell revealed a decadently plump, if not shy, inner self. Shy because it was like they had been talked into coming out of their shells wearing nothing but their birthday suits. Steamed in a light white wine and butter broth, it’s shellfish like this we crave, buttery and a little squishy. David and I go out for mussels quite a bit and were lamenting all the mediocre mussels we’ve eaten after trying these.

And then–the homemade coffee ice cream. I think coffee and ice cream are David’s two favorite things, so how could we not? Truthfully, I dreamed about this ice cream that night. Dark with coffee and smooth with cream, it made you just want to give everything up. What’s the point of making anything when this coffee ice cream exists in the world?

Our food was pricier than what you’d normally pay in a lesser restaurant but worth it. Bistro Le Gras matched our back-to-basics order with elegant simplicity that let the high-quality ingredients speak for themselves. And they treated us well. We walked away with a bill of about $80, though $22 of them were for my wine, which doesn’t count in my book. (My solution to spending that much in one go is filling the rest of the week with salad greens and French vinaigrette, locally grown tomatoes in season and other lovely and cheap things from the farm stand.)

By the time we left, Northampton was draped in night, and it had cooled. We walked through town slowly and silently reveled under the lights. My pants and platforms still lit me up, but I felt less sassy than earlier, more contained, grounded. The company, the food, and the wine made me long for nothing else.



Two noteworthy things happened to me on my birthday. 1) I decided to become a wine writer and 2) I received a lovely and surprising fleeting kiss from a stranger. It was lovely exactly because it was surprising and fleeting. The next morning, I woke up a new person with a fully composed vision in my head: I would immerse myself in the world of food and wine for a new writing project. As a poet who had long been writing spare and depressing poems about her father’s battle with dementia, this decision could not have come too soon. I was ready to have some fun! The kiss from the stranger sealed the deal by reminding me to seize the moment. A few days later, my friend D’arcy came over.  After laughing about the kiss, we hatched a plan to visit a new restaurant every month for my new blog.

DSC_7540On Saturday, May 25th, a month after D’arcy’s visit, we, and our friend Carolyn, were on our way to West Springfield, MA for a meal at bNapoli, a high-end yet casual Italian restaurant touting the use of locally sourced ingredients Google-able under “Best Italian Restaurants in western MA.” They have a slick website, which promises a fun and foodie kind of evening. I wanted Italian because earlier that day, Carolyn and I were attending a wine class featuring Tuscan wines at my favorite shop, Provisions. It only seemed fitting to eat Italian after drinking Italian wines. D’Arcy agreed to pick us up after the class and bring us to dinner.

I hadn’t been to West Springfield in forever, but the last time I was there, I saw a play at The Majestic, a small professional theater on the main street in town away from the nightmare that is Riverdale Road. bNapoli is less than a block away from the theater, so dinner and a show would be a perfect date night.

They do have valet service, by the way, but we saw plenty of street parking nearby, so we just slid into a spot a few steps away from the front door.

I had made reservations for 6:15, but because the wine class let out a little late and D’arcy, too, had been running behind, I called and asked to change them to 6:30. “No problem,” the man on the phone said, but I was afraid we’d end up sitting around while they scrambled to find a place for us, now that we had messed with the schedule. But, no. We arrived and were greeted by Jerry, the owner (though we didn’t know that yet), who immediately crossed us off his list and said, “Follow me.” Jerry is a tall, lean man with classic Italian features, and at the risk of totally objectifying him, as he led us through the already-busy restaurant to our table, D’arcy turned to me and said, “I’d follow that man into a trash can” to which I totally agreed. He was very nice to look at and had a gracious, wide smile. Later, we learned that Jerry had some years ago come to the U.S. from Italy and opened a small pizzeria next door. For several years, he worked and slept in the pizzeria, which had a small apartment in the back. Eventually, he earned enough to buy the space where bNapoli stands now and literally built the interior by himself, at least that’s the story our waiter told us. Seeing Jerry move through the restaurant with that big smile took on new meaning. This place was his baby.

It wasn’t clear exactly how much influence Jerry had on the menu because the chef was a local well-known whose name I have forgotten. Apparently, he’s mentored many local chefs and shows his own skills here. But I am guessing if Jerry isn’t cooking, he is at least advising.

bNapoli is fairly bright with a large front window looking out onto the street. The design has a modern steel and linen look with clean lines. A nice long bar curves around one wall while the rest of the restaurant fills one room with approximately 40 tables. The atmosphere was lively and friendly, definitely not your typical New England affair where you sit quietly and wait to be served. Here you can feel free to laugh loudly and chatter all you want.

Our waiter, Tom, arrived quickly after Jerry left us, offering menus and water. It was an 80-degree day and humid, so we went with a bottle of sparkling and settled in. Tom told us that the bar was known for their cocktails, but since we had been drinking wine, we wanted to stick with it and see if we’d learned anything in the class when looking at their wine list. I’ll just say, I am a sucker for a good cocktail and am always on the look-out for a new place to try one, so I will be back for one of those hopefully soon. The wine list looks good, with way more reds than whites, and Carolyn and I did find a well-priced Chianti that would go with anything, so we went with that. Though, if I had to go back and do it again, I might have chosen a white knowing what we ended up having for dinner.

The menu offered five courses and a gourmet pizza selection. We ordered with this blog post in mind, choosing one thing from the appetizers, the antipasti, the salads, and the pastas, and each of us ordered a main course. We skipped the pizza because it feels like an after-thought on the menu, tucked below the entrées as a nod to Jerry’s humble beginnings perhaps.

First was the Arugula salad with preserved blood oranges, fennel, pomegranate essence, pistachios, and extra virgin olive oil. Ours also came with two bursting slices of bright pink watermelon radish. This salad was delicious, dressed mostly with the lightly sweet pomegranate essence, which had the texture of water, and a tiny bit of the olive oil. NO VINEGAR here, which was lovely. We could taste each of the ingredients in their natural state with the exception of the preserved oranges, which were bites of pure heaven, bright and unassuming against the spicy arugula.

Next came the Crostini with chicken liver mousse and foie gras. The foie gras was silk. Topped on the mousse with pickled mustard grains and a little chive, the bite was yummy. Though, I think I would have preferred it without the crostini, maybe in a small turine with the option of bread. As it was, the bread itself didn’t add much to the flavor or texture and was a bland carrier of a wonderful combination of flavors. I saw this kind of thing in Spain a lot last summer. Tapas dishes can often be spreads on bread where the bread is just in the way, in my opinion. But this was better than that. The chicken liver mousse was light and creamy, and I really enjoyed the crunchiness of the mustard.

My favorite might have been the Poached D’Angou Pear with prosciutto, aged balsamic, hazelnuts, and sweet gorgonzola in the middle of the pear. The pear was poached in port, so the dish is mostly sweet, but coupled with the gorgonzola and the prosciutto, it had a stinky or gamey character that I LOVED but which D’Arcy was not a fan. Carolyn thought the whole thing was just too sweet. I think she was right, but it didn’t bother me. This was an earthy dish attempting refinement, and I liked the push and pull it did between those two hemispheres. The pear itself sat in the middle of the plate surrounded by a blanket of prosciutto as if were the hem of the pear’s dress. It might be the perfect thing to get if you sit at the bar after the theater with a glass of wine or one of those cocktails. Skip the whole rest of the meal and just enjoy that as your after-theater treat.

We almost skipped the pasta, but D’Arcy had a theory that if a restaurant could do a basic dish really well, everything else was worth trying.  So, we agreed to get the most simple pasta on the menu, the Bucatini Pomodoro. Bucatini is a long, hollow pasta that looks like a very thick string of spaghetti. Here, the texture of it was thick and almost doughy, much like homemade pastas served in Italy. I love that! The rest was DOP cherry tomatoes, basil, grana (a hard cheese) and extra virgin olive oil. I liked the flavors, but it felt like there was something missing. D’Arcy thought more basil. I thought possibly salt, of which there was none on the table. It did have a smokiness to it that I really liked, but I was looking for some brightness that wasn’t there. We also thought a nice experiment would be to see how it served as a leftover the next day, so we each just had a few bites and asked Tom to bag it for us.

Before I go on to the main courses, I should talk about Tom. While Jerry (oh my, I just saw that they are Tom and Jerry) may have been exceedingly handsome–when he came by several times to check in on us, we swooned–Tom was the backbone of our evening. I’ll admit, we made a big show of ourselves. We told Tom about the wine class, and as I took notes on each dish, D’Arcy snapped photos, none of which we did stealthily. We were just plain having fun and didn’t care who knew it. In our merriment, we asked all kinds of questions about the food, the wine, the restaurant’s history, and Tom was at the ready with all the answers. He was also at the ready with water, wine, and anything else we needed. Informed, friendly, and equally as interested in our food as we were, Tom was the perfect server. Handsome too, I might add, in a wholly American way.

He also helped when Carolyn informed him of her soy allergy, which led her to order the Atlantic Haddock for her main course. So, back to the food. Carolyn had the Haddock, and D’Arcy had decided on the Cioppino when she read the menu online two days before. That made two fish dishes, so I figured I should get something meaty. I decided on the Short Rib Ragu because whenever D’Arcy mentioned it, her eyes went wide talking about how they cook it with the bone marrow. Perhaps I was dazed by the swirl of activity, but nothing else was exactly striking my fancy, so I went with it.

All the meals were good, but the Atlantic Haddock stole the show. That fish tasted like it just came out of the ocean and jumped willingly into the pan. Placed on a bed of truffled mashed potatoes and lentils and topped with fennel, radish, and capers, the dish was a stunner, one of those where you taste it and everything else falls away. There could have been a man on stilts walking by playing trumpet and I would not have noticed. Carolyn thorough enjoyed it. I could tell because each time she took a bite, she was careful to construct it with all the ingredients, after which she would pop it delicately into her mouth and savor.

D’Arcy’s Cioppino was also good, but I tasted a shrimp from it that was overcooked. The real star of that dish was the tomato saffron broth, which D’Arcy perfectly described as an Italian mole. Dark, earthy, and spicy, it had the consistency of sea water but the color of dark red pepper flake. By the time she was finished with it, a fair amount of broth was the only thing left, which if she hadn’t taken home, I am sure she would have just drank straight from the bowl.

My Ragu was ok. Too heavy to eat much of, I ended up picking through the pasta at the short rib, which was melt-in-your-mouth tender, but which lacked a certain zing that the previous pasta dish had also lacked. Was it salt? My companions said no. They liked it as it was, but I was underwhelmed. The pasta, though, was terrific, a Gragnano Fusilli with a flavor and texture I’d never experienced before. I looked it up and Gragnano is an area in Italy with several important designations. It was the first place to mass produce pasta, but it was also designated by the King of Naples in the 1800’s as the only place in Italy allowed to grow wheat for the rest of the population. It had to do with the soil and the high elevation where the wheat is grown as well as the calcium-poor water of Monti Lattari, which is used in the dough. Today, Gragnano pasta is regulated by the government and must be produced in the designated terrain using the local water and must be dried in the open mountain air. It’s bad for me to know these things because it’ll mean I won’t ever buy pasta unless it is Gragnano again.

It’s unfathomable to me how, but we were not completely stuffed. So, in service of our mission, we decided to have dessert. We let Tom surprise us. He came back with a beautiful tower of chocolate and cream love. It was the Salame di Cioccolato, which translates into chocolate salami, I believe. Here’s why: the tower is built with a layer of mascarpone topped by a chocolate and hazelnut cookie followed by another thick layer of mascarpone another cookie and dark maraschino cherries. The cookie is an Italian version of an icebox cookie where you make the dough, roll it into a thick log, cover it with cellophane, and put it in the refrigerator. When you make cookies, you slice the log like a salami and bake the slices. It was good. I’m not into sweet sweet desserts, which this wasn’t. The mascarpone barely had any sugar, and the cookie itself wasn’t overpoweringly sweet either. The cherries in their sauce were the sugariest thing on the plate, and they were delicious.

And then! A surprise gift from Tom! Three cold little glasses filled with a rich amber cider. I’m not usually a fan of ciders, but this one from Vermont, Eden Ciders’ “Heirloom” Barrel Aged Ice Cider, was sooooo good. It had the heft of a liqueur without all the alcohol and a bright apple finish that popped in your mouth. It was a perfect ending.

Our trip to bNapoli was not only delicious but seriously fun. After the long New England winter, I needed the wining and dining, the laughter, the girl’s night out, and this was the exact right place. I want to go back next weekend, hang out at the bar, and be one of those customers who knows all the wait staff by name. It was like being at a party with insanely good food and drink and bright, intelligent company. You never want to leave!