Mon 22 Oct 2007
For Ken & Terry.
So, finally we’re having seasonable weather in Memphis, after a horrendous August and a hotter-than-usual September. It’s a beautiful, clear, slightly warm Sunday afternoon, and we’re still on the screened porch, reading The New York Times and watching the dogs gambol about the backyard or collapse on the grass, as if fallen from an airplane, to snooze in the sun. Maybe a little lunch would be appropriate, not really lunch, but something halfway between lunch and a snack.
So I go into the kitchen and start putting things together. When we were in New York last month, we went to Buon Italiano in Chelsea Market and stocked up on meats and cheeses (and a jar of ravishing lime blossom honey). I slice some sopressata, some speck and some coppa, slice a baguette, put some nicoise olives and roasted red pepper on the platter. Pour some olive oil — the bright, rich Prato Lungo from Long Meadow Ranch Winery in Napa Valley — in a little bowl.
We need wine, of course, so I open a bottle of the Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2004 (about $23).
This is pretty damned perfect. That’s the east side of our backyard, seen from the porch, with three tall, pale, slender sycamore trees that we love.
The salumi are wonderful, probably the best we’ve ever had. The speck is dense, almost lush in texture, like prosciutto in flavor but darker and more intense. The sopressata is hard, nutty, spicy; it’s great on pizza. The coppa is smoky, ripely meaty and earthy.
The Volpaia Chianti Classico 2004 is indeed classic, a delicious melange of vivid black currant, black raspberry and plum flavors with spiced tea, potpourri, lively acid and grainy, chewy tannins. The wine sees no new oak or small barrels, aging 14 months in Slovenian casks for subtle wood notes and a robust structure.
Back in June, I gave LL a birdfeeder for her birthday, which I set up near the west side of our screened porch. Watching the birds come to the feeder, observing their habits and manners and colors and the playing out of status — they’re like dogs that way — have given us hours of amusement and pleasure. We have house finches, cow-birds, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, blue jays (the court jesters), mourning doves and so on. About the third week of September, though, most of the birds vanished. What’s up with that? I mean, they’re already south. How far south do they have to go?
We still had our two pairs of cardinals, though, the brash crimson males with their black masks and conical hats, the kings of our yard, and the softer, more muted females. They are monogamous and non-migratory.
Anyway, so here we are, a brilliant Sunday afternoon, a nice snack and wine, the newspapers.
Then there’s a commotion, over to our left, in some shrubbery. Four of the dogs — Tessa, the fifth dog, has to stay in her own yard because she and the boss-dog, Grace Slick, have terrible fights — are circling around, jumping back and forth, barking. Suddenly, LL cries, “Rosie, no!” and there’s Rose, the small black chow, running around, shaking something that looks like a limp red rag in her mouth. We rush out of the porch and run to where the dogs are watching Rose, who leaps back and forth shaking what is, of course, one of the male cardinals. Too late for the bird. I get a shovel from the garage, shoo Rose away — she doesn’t want to give up her prize — scoop up what is hardly recognizable as a bird now, and drop him in the trash bin.
Well, this is really sad. Now there’s a cardinal widow; what will she do? Somehow, considering this day, I can’t help thinking about Dutch still-life paintings from the 17th century, those intricate marvels of bountiful hedonism, overflowing with fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and seafood, carafes of wine, silver platters and goblets, heaps of flowers, unalloyed tributes to the pleasures of the body. But there’s always a tiny detail that gives us pause: A moldy lemon on the fruit tray; a fly, rendered in such exquisite detail that you can almost hear it buzz; a few wilted flowers in the bouquet, all serving to remind us that in the midst of life’s generous offerings and pleasures, decay, dissolution and death still reign supreme, that everything organic, living, material comes to the same end, including dogs, birds and us.
Still, until all the food is eaten and all the wine consumed, until all the lovely Sunday afternoons vanish, and dogs and cats and birds are forgotten, and music is silent and poems are unread, and we ourselves have vanished and are forgotten — until that day, we’ll keep on exactly as we are.
Castello di Volpaia wines are imported by Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, Ca.
The website for the olive oil is longmeadowranch.com.