All Things Andrea

All Things Andrea

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August in Tuscany

I'm still not even sure exactly how this evening came about or just when the inspiration came to me.  And how to put its impact into words....

If it wasn't for the pictures, I would still wonder if it really happened. It's almost as if the dream of the evening had been planted deep in my soul decades ago, then was slowly unearthed and birthed as I spent countless hours gazing out the kitchen window onto the backyard this spring and summer while I would do food prep. The love of food. The sheer delight of alfresco dining. The desire to deeply connect with kindred spirit friends over a meal.

Feasting at a long table.  Visions of heaven.  Certainly, it was inspired by a several books, a magazine article and a website. But it was so much more than that - it was almost as if God had been planning this event and preparing me to host it for years - the desire for a home where I could entertain, then the provision of a house with the perfect backyard for such an event.  The love of dishes, and then the provision of dinnerware, silverware, glasses and table linens - all at bargain prices over the years.  Chairs from my Great Aunt's estate.  Even the table - who else is crazy enough to buy a table with more leaves than a room can hold simply because of a vision that maybe someday there will be enough space?  How many people have that many chairs, or even the space to store them? And enough people to gather?

The idea was far fetched.  I could see it - every detail of it, but it was still ridiculous!  Hauling my precious custom-made cherry kitchen table out onto the lawn.  Cooking for a crowd when none of the food could be prepared in advance, when I typically feel overwhelmed with coming up with something for just me to eat.  When my body and brain refuse to function at optimal levels.  Who would come on a weeknight in the middle of the summer?  And what about the weather?

The evening DID happen!  I kept sensing God saying, "Keep proceeding" despite the weather forecast for rain.  I was so stressed!  How in the world was I going to pull this thing off now that 17 people had actually RSVP'd?  Indeed, the weather was perfect.  Dear friends arrived with fresh flowers from their gardens and cheerfully lended a hand where needed.  God even scheduled the moon to join us.  It was amazing...  The pictures still move me to tears. (Bless you, Melissa - I don't think you have any idea of how talented you are!!) 

I felt like I came alive and was as close to ME as I have ever been in my entire life.  I wasn't even feeling well that day, but it was as if God planted His Spirit in me and carried out the vision that had become so dear to my heart, then allowed me to be a guest at His feast.

I feel so blessed, so grateful....

The invitation read:
"Come join fellow foodies and friends,
celebrate the bounty of the season,
and enjoy a rustic Italian summer supper on the lawn."

The menu:
Parsley Pesto on Toasted Bread Rounds
Home-canned Grape Juice
Rustic Italian Bread with Herbed Dipping Oil
Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Rounds with Chef Tim's Balsamic Vinaigrette
Rosemary Roasted Chicken
Roasted Zucchini
Rustic Plum Tart with Fresh Whipped Cream

The menu was inspired by Italy's approach to eating.  As Barbara Kingsolver writes in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, "Italian food is not delicious for its fussiness or complexity, but for the opposite reason: it's simple."  So, the goal was to keep it uncomplicated, inexpensive, and to use what God had already generously and beautifully provided.  I wanted to inspire others that they could do the same.

Below are the recipes and/or links:

Parsley Pesto on toasted bread rounds

Home-canned Grape Juice


Herbed Dipping Oil
(adapted from Carrabba's)

1 t. crushed red pepper
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. dried basil
1 t. parsley flakes
1 t. granulated garlic (or 1/2 t. garlic powder)
1 t. fresh minced garlic (optional)
1 t. sea salt
1/4 - 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients, except oil, in a shallow bowl.  Add olive oil and serve with fresh-baked bread for dipping.
Note:  I usually double or triple the recipe; I combine all the spices except the fresh garlic and store in a covered jar.  Then, when ready to serve, I simply use about 1/2 t. of the spice mix per person, and add the olive oil.  I haven't bothered with the fresh garlic because it has plenty of flavor.

Rustic Plum Tart with Fresh Whipped Cream

*  I can say that the following did play a significant role in inspiring the evening, probably in this order:
  • The book Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  I've been slowly reading, chewing and digesting this book for the past several years.  It has intensified my desire for heaven so much so that some days it's unbearably hard to still be here.  As a result, one of my coping mechanisms has been, "If I can't get to heaven yet, then I'm going to bring a taste of it here."  That explains the feasting.  Eating the things God has created.  Making creativity a priority.  Hoping for the energy to do the impossible.
  • The book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  I'm so glad my friend Julia suggested I read this book.  It deeply impacted me and inspired me to eat seasonally, locally and organically beginning in 2010; it has played a very significant part in my food journey.  The chapter describing the authors' trip to Italy named and described longings embedded in my heart that I didn't even realize existed.
  • A wonderful article in Martha Stewart Living magazine entitled "From Farm to Feast".  It told the story of a Colorado chef who grows food for his Aspen restaurant and featured pictures of an absolutely beautiful summer lunch he hosted for his employees.  So inspiring.
  • The website "Outstanding in the Field".  OH MY!!!  Country Living Magazine referenced their website in one of their issues this spring; I was totally unprepared for my jaw-dropping reaction when I saw the photos of long tables set up in beautiful vistas - it was if they had cracked open my brain and carried out my outlandish dreams.  Those pictures are as close to what I envision heaven to be like as anything I've ever viewed.  I wanna go - soon!!!
To each of these people I want to say, "Thank you!  Surely God is so pleased when we image just a tiny piece of Him!"

Photo credits:  Melissa Binder

Photo Credit: Alison Hoke-Fitts

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