Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sixteen little eggplants that made a grown man cry

from the "tears of happiness" dept.

Alfonso and Rafael in Assisi - October 1977
Getting to a weekend where there are no obligations, no travel, no “must-do’s” during the October-November-December holiday season is a rarity. But this is exactly where I found myself this weekend. So, I’m taking a little time to “mommy-blog.” I’ve been working at a pretty hard and fast pace, so please bear with me. There may or may not be enough bloggy Italian wine stuff on this post. But this needs to be written.

Since I came to Texas with my then young son (who was two) my life has been an exploration into making a living in the wine business. It was an accidental happening, but one that now I am glad it happened. I came to wine because I needed a day job, and I needed a non-linear profession that would afford me the opportunity to be creative, to put food on the table and to give me the flexibility of time in which to raise a child.

Fast-forward to now. My son is an adult. Cutting his hair yesterday, I noticed some of his red hair is turning grey. I cannot tell you how that makes me feel, but the words panic, terror and denial would begin to sort out my feeling about that subject. Nonetheless, time is relentlessly steering us towards our ultimate oxidative moment. But not yet.

The yard is finally giving up whatever bounty a long, hot, dry, protracted summer has allowed. This weekend the temperature started seeming like October around here. The Hoja Santa, the aromatic herb that grows to a large leaf and is wrapped around goat cheese, is having the best year I can remember. So far, I’ve harvested the leaves four times and I still have a large, last harvest to go.

The eggplants have really taken off in late summer/early autumn. After picking sixteen of them (medium-sized) the only solution was to make my Eggplant Parmigiana, which doesn’t use Reggiano-Parmigiano, but Pecorino. Still, that is what it is known as. And so I took the afternoon yesterday to make the casserole.

The eggplants were fresh picked. The Mozzarella was fresh. I got a different can of crushed tomatoes than I normally have been using, Luigi Vitelli. The oregano was also from the garden. The oil was from California. The only Italian ingredient was the Pecorino. This is a dish inspired by Italy and my forebears, but it has become an American dish.

Wine wise, I had a bottle of Castiglion del Bosco Brunello 2009, which was rustic and a little but feral in the flavor. Nothing wrong with it, it might have had a preponderance of volatile activity, but the tomato based nature of the dish helped it along. The wine that I found myself going back to more was the 2012 Ridge Montebello. Wow – this wine really matched well with the dish.

When my son and I sat down to eat the eggplant Parmigiana, after the first bite he stopped, took a breath and stopped again. This is usually a dish we both scarf down, as we love it so much. But my son said, “Pop, I’m going to have to slow down with this dish – something is going on.” Meanwhile, I ravaged my plate. A few minutes pass and Rafael is eating slowing, pensively, like he is searching for words, or the breath to say them. Finally I saw tears stream down his face. At first I was taken aback, wondering what was wrong, but my son made sure to defuse my alarm. “Pop, you really did it this time. I don’t know if you channeled our ancestors, but this is the best eggplant dish you have ever done. And I’m so damn happy it’s bringing tears to my eyes.” Happiness like those little eyes showed in the first photo up top.

Rafael  in Verona - 1997
Not one who likes to make anyone cry, let alone a grown man. I remember there have been times when a particular wine brought tears to my eyes, unforced and unexpected. And I knew then the best thing was to just let nature take its course. So I retreated, and let my son have this moment. It was a cathartic experience, this eggplant dish, but I can’t help but wonder if the stars aligned and the eggplant acted as a transmitter for some larger event in the universe. I’ve been making this dish since I was eighteen, a long time. But I never moved the heavens and the earth with it. But this time something happened.

I guess when my son said, “It’s not so often I cry tears of joy, but I’m so darn happy.” That was all I needed. One of those moments when a parent really loves being a parent. And a nice break from the relentless march of the holiday season where all we can think about is making all of our Italian wine friends happy by making sure their wines don’t end up in a cold warehouse somewhere in the middle of flyover country. Funny to think that this precipitated from 16 little eggplants. Magic, eh? That, and a whole lot of love.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

3 comments: said...

All the love you poured into that dish obviously had a "magic". It touched deep inside Raf and fermented a deep sense of the love you have always surrounded him with. It sounds like it was a very cathartic experience. I have to say, when I saw the photo of the dish it stirred something deep inside of me too. And it wasn't hunger for food but hunger for loved ones long gone and family meals around the old kitchen table in Nonna's house on Hidalgo. This was one of your best blogs ever. Love and miss you Sis

Marco said...

Very touching. Precious ancestral memories intertwined with food and wine.

Anonymous said...

Put love in your food people can taste it.

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