text + images by Elizabeth Griswold
Fall is in the air, sweeping old and unnecessary things out of our lives, with scalloped curlicue winds and bracing blasts of cold air. The light that lays on my windowsill this morning is heavy. It is the light of growing up, it is the light that I try to explain as “nostalgic,” because I cannot seem to find a bigger word that encompasses all that I really mean. It is layered, made up of many years of windowsills, old lights, of deepening shadows and earlier dark.
Last night, in the dregs of poverty, I received an insanely decadent gift of assorted cheeses from someone very dear to me. The nine types of cheese were wrapped in blue and silver tinfoil, circles and triangles, glowing dully in their box, throwing windowsill light rainbows around my kitchen.
I was sad last night, and I received the gift humbly, the luxury of it could not be a bigger contrast to this certain, very poor moment in my life. To complete the luxury of the moment, I chose to open the most special bottle I have remaining on my shelf: an old Marsala by the Sicilian master Marco de Bartoli (Vecchio Samperi ‘Ventennale’), recommended by a friend. I made a dinner of sumptuousness, a dinner of gifts.
The Marsala was exquisite (Grillo/Zibbibo solera blend, from his Contrada Samperi vineyards in southwestern Sicily), like the best amontillado sherry I have ever had, maple-y, slightly sweet at first, all walnut shells and hazelnut skins on the nose, dry walnuts on the end and exactly enough rounding out of candied brittle or slight hints of toffee, (cut-stick palo cortado), caramel, nutmeg and anise. There was a kind of dry, unsweetened cinnamon stick that ran right through the center of my tongue, and then a complex softness and balance that I don’t think I have ever experienced, even in years of obsessive sherry collecting.
The cheeses were delicious, and creamy, fresh and bright. Two tiny perfect circle goat cheese crottins (FR), and a wedge of fromage de meaux (Brie-style cheese from Seine-et-Marne, FR), with rosemary crackers and a ripe white nectarine. The creamy sharp tang of the crottin paired perfectly with the nuttiness of the Marsala, the fromage de meaux lent more grassy, mild herbal notes, with a gamey and buttery, oozing bite.
When tragedies appear in our lives, they are sharp, and they stud the wash of usual days with pinpricks that stop us in our tracks. These moments by definition are unexpected, unavoidable, and mark time in a way that is all their own. In fact they stop time, and give us precise coordinates of exactly where we are, NOW.
For me, the remedy of sorrow was in my unapologetic feast, a gift of memory I gave to myself, now etched as onto a copper plate. I chose to celebrate with food and wine, and friends, and to open my eyes to change, and the new wind-swept space under my feet.