To celebrate the 4th of July, we encourage you to savor. This means to delicately notice every moment, every bite of summer salad, every s’more. If you’re planning to gather around a bonfire, watch the fireworks, or go to bed early with a loved one—savor it! There’s nothing more important in life than the small, luscious moments. What better way to exert your independence than to appreciate the subtleties of a three-day weekend, or a fresh meal.
Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, chef couple of the acclaimed Osteria Pane e Salute Restaurant, certainly know how to savor. They traveled to Italy, learned the recipes, and brought them back to the U.S. But one 4th of July, they were visited by an Italian woman, at their restaurant in Woodstock, VT.
The Fourth of July. We take the day off and spend the evening with friends watching the town’s fireworks from a high meadow with cows grazing below us. It is the first time their children have stayed up this late to watch, and they laugh and exclaim when the rockets boom then explode in color and lights. Two days later, a young woman from Belarus walks through our bakery doors looking for work. She arrived in this country on the Fourth, and there is something patriotic and inspiring about her setting foot on American soil on our Independence Day. We hire her on the spot and she comes to work that afternoon.
Olga, with her heart-shaped face and cat-eyes, is a Checkovian beauty. A string of young men follow her around town. She is as animated as she is delighted to be in this country. We feed her every day that she works, plying her with cookies and loaves of bread, remembering what it is like to have just arrived in a foreign land. When we break for our afternoon meal, we sit and talk about her days here, or the application of a new word or phrase in English. I ask her if she’s getting enough to eat. She pats her stomach and says, “I’m worried I’ll get fat. Never before have I had such opportunity to eat so many different things.”
* *The tables are set for summer dinner at the restaurant, all their lit candles flicker in the baroque mirror at the back of the dining room, patrons chatter, glasses chink in toasts and salutations, and a bossa nova plays quietly through the loudspeakers. The dining room is filled with people we know and don’t know, those locals who are thankful to be able to walk on the sidewalk still, and the travelers who leisurely stroll through town. There, the doctor and his wife who just moved here; over there, the woman who once studied in Perugia and married an Italian man—an ill-fated marriage that lasted less than a year; and there are the parents of the boy who works in the kitchen with Caleb on Friday and Saturday nights. Friends of ours sit with friends of theirs drinking magenta aperativi, our house cocktail of bitters, orange juice, spumante, and mint, and discuss a future trip to Italy. They plot out possible itineraries.They could go back to Tuscany, where they’ve gone before. If they do, we’ll send them to Siena again. To the historic centro they’ll go. We’ll tell them to turn right, up toward the black-and-white-striped stone cattedrale, to our new acquaintance Roberto’s emporio where he sells biscotti, pastries, Siennese panforte—that dark chocolate, almond, and raisin confection laced with cinnamon and orange peel, and they can take a coffee there at Roberto’s shop, the Roberto of the Window Table who lunched just this past Monday at the restaurant on spaghetti with an artichoke sauce and a salad of arugula and bresaola, air-cured beef. Roberto, whose last name is so old it’s still written in the Latin, with whom we shake hands and promise to see again in his town. Roberto who passed through our village after visiting Niagra Falls. Now, it’s Saturday and Monday seems like weeks ago. The days come and go, a blur of constant motion.
At the end of each day, I think about the faces I noticed, stories I heard, stories I told. I close my eyes and see the food that came from the kitchen on large white plates or in ample bowls. I think about why I get up every morning and drive into work, why I write about what I see, taste, hear, and touch. I think about Caleb working each day on a minimum of sleep, baking, cooking, paying bills, fixing a dripping faucet in the sink or an oven that’s gone on the blink. I think about how late we stay up on Thursday nights planning the new dinner menu for every Friday, and I know why we do this. We do this for Roberto of the Window Table, for Olga who is a stranger in an unfamiliar land, for the Turkish man, the French woman, and all the other faces we see and to whom we smile and say, Good day. We do this as an inverse of our experiences three thousand miles away, in honor of the Italian traveler who finds himself in Woodstock, hungry and homesick, and arrives at our threshold curious.