Saturday, December 29, 2007


Even though we have passed the winter solstice, it is 5:30 in the evening and still already dark. The snow falls steadily as we make the drive home from the village where we work, making the ride quiet. Lights shine through house windows and I can see people moving around inside setting tables, cooking in kitchens, dressing dining room chandeliers in pine boughs and sparkles. We are not open at the restaurant on Christmas Eve, but we have been in the kitchen all day baking panettone, the yeasty Italian Christmas bread studded with raisins and candied orange peel. Once the bread is out of the oven, we pack up our bounty and deliver to our friends around town the golden loaves, still warm and scented with citrus, while finishing that last bit of our holiday errands.

It reminds us of our Easter in a village outside of Rome this spring. On the day we arrived in Italy, warm with the sun shining, we opened the small cottage we let, then went out provisioning as we had guests arriving the next day for the long holiday weekend. At the bakery in the piazza, we got ourselves in the line winding out the door, knowing that everyone must be waiting for something good. It was the first round of pizza di pasqua, a typical Easter bread similar to panettone but made with anise and pancetta for savory, or bits of chocolate for sweet. We bought ours with chocolate, still warm and fragrant, then went to the macellaio for meat, the alimentari for cheese, and the frutta e verdura for fresh fruit and vegetables. In each store, the perfume rising from our open paper bag caused patrons and owners alike to stop, ask what smelled so delicious, ask where we got it, then dash out the door, shouting over their shoulder, “I’ll be right back!” as they went out to get their own holiday treat.

We hear later that we have somehow channeled the spirit of our Roman Easter’s pizza di pasqua as our own panettone plies the same magic as our friends finish their holiday shopping with their open bags of warm Christmas bread and the air is filled with orange, raisin, and the warmth of good cheer halting everyone for just a moment as they wonder at the change in atmosphere.

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