After our son Peter was born, life got in the way of returning to Pane e Salute. Finally, a year ago I said enough is enough, and I made the trip by myself while Dillon stayed with the kids. Arriving after a four-year absence and sitting at the bar, sipping an aperitivo and contemplating the menu for the evening, I was enveloped in comfort. I promised myself then that a yearly trip was in order.
This year Dillon and I treated ourselves to a trip to celebrate the end of our summer restaurant season. We stayed up late finishing restaurant dishes and laundry on Saturday, and headed off to Woodstock first thing Sunday.
Our meal was wonderful, as always. The style of cooking is very similar to our own — certainly the same language — but in the hands of another cook (or speaker), the dialect is a little bit different and a welcome change from the familiar. Highlights of our meal included two pasta: spaghetti with pork, figs, and ricotta; and spaghetti with zucchini, lemon, and parmigiano. Equally remarkable as Caleb’s cooking are Deirdre’s wine pairings. Drawing from a vast array of hand-picked Italian bottlings and based on her own expertise as sommelier, Deirdre’s pairings are always a highlight of the meal. Her interest not only in wine but in scents more broadly contributed to her exquisite cider infusion, Orleans, a collaboration with a local cider maker, and served as the aperitivo di sera. The aromas evoked fine perfume as much as the more typical scents of fermented beverages.
As delightful and inspiring as our meal was, however, the real highlight of the trip was a visit to Caleb and Deirdre’s farm, featuring newly developed vegetable and flower gardens and a vineyard/winery. When we first met Deirdre and Caleb, these extensions of their restaurant business had yet to develop. In an interesting way, our paths are mirror images: I got interested in cooking through farming, while Caleb and Deirdre got interested in farming through cooking. A wonderful, inverted parallel, made even more meaningful by the fact that a simple gift of Italian seeds I sent them the Christmas after my apprenticeship inspired them to undertake more vegetable growing, a small way of repaying the debt I owe them for changing my life. So often we never know the effect we have on others.
Caleb and Deirdre’s farming enterprises are ambitious indeed. They have a lovely raised-bed, vegetable box garden, with pathways of tiny stones. They have fruit trees, roses, and flowers. A hoop house for winter vegetable production. But their greatest ambition has been devoted to their new, budding vineyard of wine grapes, hearty northern varieties like Marquette and La Crescent, but also noble European varieties like Riesling.
For many years Deirdre has been Pane’s sommelier, artfully pairing carefully made Italian wines with Caleb’s dishes at the restaurant. This work led to a broader interest in liquors, spirits, and perfume detailed in her wonderful book Libation: A Bitter Alchemy. The logical and most recent extension of this interest has been her own experimentation and production of spirits, infusions, and wine-making. Thus the cider infusion Orleans mentioned above. Thus her own attempts at winemaking and her first vintage just coming up for sale. Her La Crescent, though her fledgling attempt, I believe to be the most interesting East Coast wine I’ve drunk.
I was reminded on the trip why we need to push ourselves to reconnect with those doing wonderful and meaningful things. Through such experiences we become rejuvenated and re-inspired. We renew our faith in the possibilities of things. We reinforce our ties to those whose kindred nature offers us strength. And finally, we rededicate ourselves to the sort of life we most deeply want to live.