It’s only fitting to end the year with a commemorative list. I don’t remember which part of my Myers-Briggs personality combination makes me prone to list making, but it is my habit and I’d be living a lie to hold back now. It’s the beginning of a new year and the end of a BIG year! Why wouldn’t I want to list my top five Food and Wine experiences of 2013?
5. Breakfast in Antigua (July)
We accidentally ended up in the Caribbean this summer…long story…but as it was the first time my husband and I had been there, we were both taken with the tropical-ness of it all. Supremely casual, slow-paced, and relaxed, we rose whenever we felt like it, strolled down to the beach, and sat at tiny café tables in the sand while dining on the most beautiful tropical fruit I’ve ever seen. With papayas bigger than my head, the freshest pineapple, and passion fruit right off the tree, I looked forward to waking up.
What to drink: vats of iced tea with lime and passion fruit scooped right in. It was breakfast, after all.
4. Lunch at Il Convento in Puglia (March)
We took our honeymoon was a month after our wedding and I’d just found out I was pregnant. So with a bag packed full of stretchy pants and three boxes of saltines, we got on a plane for Italy and landed in the wettest, coldest spring the area had seen in decades. A pale shade of sea foam gracing my cheeks, we drove all over Southern Italy, stopping at various food and wine destinations we’d set up before I was in my first trimester and hoped for the best at each stop.
The top of my list is still Il Convento di Santa Maria di Constantinopoli in Puglia, right at the tip of the Italian boot. The convent-turned bed and breakfast has walls and rooms lined with ancient artifacts from all over Africa, the South Pacific, India, masks and figures and fabric and wooden statues, and the in-house chef Pierre-Luigi daily prepares beautiful meals. Every afternoon, they’d tuck just the two of us into one of the many tiny rooms and serve elaborate, leisurely lunches. The best was a typical Puglese lunch, a smattering of salumi, fresh fava beans, pickled artichokes, bread, local cheeses, pasta made by Pierre-Luigi’s mother, and fresh peas. It was amazing, vibrant, fresh, real.
What to drink: A local rosé made from Negroamaro. Spring, quintessentially.
3. Family pasta dinner at the beach (August)
A few of my family members have homes in Spring Lake, New Jersey where we all gather over a rolling few vacation weeks every summer. My aunt, who loves to garden but won’t plant anything without a flower or fruit, has developed a pretty stellar garden including squash, herbs, figs, grapes, raspberries, and mountains of tomatoes. This year, we brought down even more tomatoes and with our powers combined, we made a fresh tomato sauce for pasta night for our big family. A bucket of chopped tomatoes, lots of basil, a tiny bit of garlic, a little chili, salt, and a touch of honey macerated together as we cooked mountains of pasta (glutinous and gluten- free to be accommodating, naturally), then tossed it all with the sauce we’d made, which was heated just enough to take the chill off and then tossed with the warm pasta so the noodles would absorb the fresh juice. It was the most satisfying, seasonally appropriate dish of the summer.
What to drink: Rosso di Montalcino started the evening, followed by whatever else was in large quantity (for about 20 of us, after all).
2. Christmas dinner 2013 (December)
We celebrate Christmas with a big family dinner my husband prepares at my in-laws’ house with relatives and anybody who wouldn’t otherwise have anywhere else to go, the “orphans,” he likes to call them, which makes for one very large and very happy dinner table. This year, we had guinea fowl or farona, which reminds me of a tiny chicken with only dark meat, roasted slowly with black truffle under its skin to perfume the whole dish. The slowly caramelized skin, the surprise pockets of earthy, musky truffle, and carrots seasoned with the juice of the bird made for a pretty impressive (and mentally imprinting, clearly) supper. There may have been other things…greens? Potatoes? Probably…?
What to drink: 2006 Conterno Barbera d’Alba from magnum (such an oddball wine…earth and truffle on the nose, richly aged red fruit evolving into satiny mineral and lavishly long finish) and 2007 Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling from Alsace…think perfectly perfumed at first with petroly mineral, then concentrated floral aromas and peach with just a whisper of sweetness on the palate. Gorgeous.
1. The Wedding (February)
Our wedding was the food event not only of the year, but probably my life. Seriously. If you’re going to have a lavish lunch, you may as well have an amazing chef prepare it with the finest ingredients available, and then eat and drink for four hours.
Without fanfare, the menu included a seafood “salad” with Nantucket Bay scallops, grilled calamari, and lime, chanterelle mushroom and black truffle risotto, squab (that’s a pigeon, and it sounds weird but when it’s done right it’s a pretty amazing dark meat bird) with its own reduction, dense, meaty monkfish with butter sauce, and a host of sweets from Patisserie Poupon including chocolate almond, citrus and raspberry, and pistachio cakes. I still find myself thinking about it all. And then the wine…good LORD.
What to drink: Champagne, all colors (Veuve Fourny Rosé, 2002 Dom Perignon), White Burgundy (2004 Lucien LeMoine Corton-Charlemagne), and 2000 La Conseillante Pomerol (that’s a Merlot-based Bordeaux) from a 5-liter bottle. Epic. It was amazing, perhaps unrepeatable, but an unbelievable culinary experience…and I ended the day married. Best day ever.
Happy New Year! Make every toast count!
Katie Callahan is a wine educator and former manager of Bin 201 Wine Sellers in Annapolis.