Monday, April 5, 2021

 notes from the road

Popoli (Pescara)

When I get into a big bed these days, I miss a woman. Sure, in small beds built for one I can nestle into the sheets and covers and drift into sleep within the confines of my own company. But when I slip between the layers on a big bed, what the Italians call the matrimonial, I miss the near warmth of her body and the luxury of reaching just a hand to her warm and waiting skin and all her miraculous possibilities.

I’ve reached that age when I feel a tickling in my ear and reach in a finger to find the answer, and a flake or two falls out. I am an old man, despite polite protests of those around me. Closing in on 60, I’m not a kid anymore. Let’s face it: I can see ahead to the last long curves in the road, feel them in my bones, my hips (especially the right) and in my lower back. Age grows at my stomach, in the slow massing of my body. I am about to give up on the fantasies of love, if I can find the courage to face the alternatives — although I still catch my eyes sneaking peeks at the young beauties, as though I’m really a boy behind this wrinkled, sagging mask. To hell with all those guys my age who taunt each other to keep up in the race to reverse time. I look in the mirror and I feel the truth in the heaviness of arms, of legs, the stomach, and in the hollowness of my heart, with all its burned out chambers where hope used to wander.

I am here with my son. We are traveling south. We are going home. We are traveling along the east coast, driving the coast road during the first young muscular storms of winter, heavy rains and buffeting winds. Our car, a tinny rental, shudders and lurches forward as the storms slap us around. But the little car is valiant with my son behind the wheel. Before we landed, he didn’t think he wanted to drive in Italy. Now he won’t relinquish the controls. For him, life is still a fresh adventure.

Winds kick the door panels, wipers working double-time against the brutal rain. We talk, my son and I. The conversation centers on our inherent pessimism which, I believe, is the genetic predisposition of Sicilians. Be prepared for the worst. That way, you won’t be disappointed. After all, always looking on the dark side of life eliminates at least half the uncertainty. I ask him why we persist in this way. We are really stubborn about it — we insist: Look at the sorry possibilities. Suspicion resides in our blood. Then, as the conversation warms like afternoon light on falling petals from a living room vase, he suggests that perhaps we are, secretly in our hearts, hopeful. We keep it quiet because we are men, always hoping. Although we greet each moment of possibility with pessimism, maybe pessimism cannot exist without hope beneath it.

We drive on. This rain is unrelenting, a strong argument against our intentions.

We check into a hotel in a small town outside a small coastal city, 20 kilometers from the sea. A comfortable room, a quiet hotel. It’s the off season, just. The room with two twin beds and a screened window overlooking the alley and the neighbor’s grey cement rooftop still holds some quality of summer light, even though the sun’s setting now in early evening, around seven, even this far south. The color inside is a softly burnt pastel yellow on the thick walls, with a mirror above the desk and the floor of large tiles the color of granite. Checking into this room after a day of driving is like loosening my belt.

Downstairs I ask the girl at the reception desk, the innkeeper’s daughter, where we might find the best pizza in Arnesano. She tells me the name of the place and when I ask her if it’s the place one street behind that I spotted on our end-of-day stroll, she is puzzled; she says she doesn’t know.

I say, “The street right behind here?” pointing toward the back of the hotel.
And she says again, “I don’t know,” as if I am asking her for directions to the nearest encyclopedia or synagogue.

After pizza with anchovies and capers and a salad of simple fresh greens with good Pugliese olive oil, sea salt and white vinegar, we walked back to the hotel under low clouds in the air’s hesitation just before rain, and now I am laying on my bed and I’m thinking, the young girl downstairs doesn’t know if the street right behind or the street four corners over heading the other way is the street of good pizza. I am imagining that she has never counted the streets or noted the direction or, perhaps, been told or even said to herself, “This is north, this direction I’m turning here, and the church is south which means when I return I will head east south east,” or, “I am walking to the corner and then turning right as I always do when I’m hungry for Francesco’s pizza; then I’m walking two more corners and turning right again, near the laundry, and walking that bit of sidewalk until I step into the warm light of Francesco’s doorway there on the left and I smell the oven baking and tomatoes and basilico simmering and say Hello before ordering.” I am thinking this pleasant young girl, the size of a child, with skin as smooth and dark as olive soap, dark clear eyes and luxurious hair of long dark curls that drape her tender neck; this young woman, this daughter of Arnesano, has never counted the corners, never counted the steps or the turns, or made conscious the directions of the compass in all the years she has lived, all those years here in this town because, I choose to conclude, she operates by her internal compass without thinking. Somewhere between her head and her heart is a gyroscope that  spins above the gravity of her locus, the center of her life. Her’s is a power of dead reckoning that keeps her operating here in her town and her house, her family and herself, which are undistinguished one from the other. She knows all this, her home and the good pizza, as she knows her own wrist and her hand and the fingers beyond. This is the topography of her own family’s body and soul.

She reminds me of the gas station attendant in Lecce, the seaside city where we pivoted west toward Arnesano. Fifteen kilometers away, he didn’t know where Arnesano is, let alone how to get here; by the look on his face when I asked him for directions, he might have no memory of hearing the name Arnesano.

I took him for a local. The shared colors of skin, hair and eyes; the familiar bone structure; about the right height, weight and build for this part of Italy. If not Lecce, he grew up somewhere in the province, which includes a scattering of villages along ancient roadways radiating from the hub of Lecce. This man didn’t know the name of a village right outside town, a village older than his grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather to the second power; didn’t seem to have ever heard of it in his, I’m guessing, forty years; or having heard of it not calculating its existence any more than a girl contemplates the number of steps or the number of streets between here and the best pizza in town. In Italy, knowing a village beyond your experience is like knowing the numerical coordinates of pizza: Why?


My son and I have come here to make right two wrongs. One is a job for  both of us; the other I must do alone.

Here is not Arnesano, by the way. Here is where we’re going: Filicudi, an island still more remote, another two days’ travel, a place you don’t just happen upon unless you are Phoenician three thousand years ago, following a starry course across unfamiliar seas. Today you don’t get there by accident. This particular Here is home of my father, and his father and his father, to the sixth or seventh power. Yes, to the sixth or seventh.

I’ll explain later.


I am laying on the hotel bed, one of the twins, in the dark center of the night, awake; quiet. Not wanting to disturb my sleeping son. Not wanting to disturb this moment. I’ve left behind consideration of the girl downstairs and the gas station guy. Now I’m thinking this:

I’m thinking I tend to fill my life with busyness, to avoid moments like this one: This moment of discomfort, known but unaccustomed, laying on my side, my eyeglasses on the night table, curled on my side like a child or an invalid, waiting for something bigger to take over, something I might fear or something I might long for, but in either case something I do not know and can only watch for obliquely, something that could take my life in its hands and form it into meaning.

I have, from time to time, looked for something bigger outside of myself — a woman’s love, a resolute duty, death — that might enliven the unconscious pulsing of purpose. This is when I feel it coming, this is when I sense its approach, the ghostly hovering, see its stupendous shadow slowly cross my mind, like an ominous darkening over a field where I lay with my face down in intimacy with grasses; when all is quiet, including me. During the day I hope for, seek, something I can put my hands on, something to own, to shelve or make use of, to make me bigger or younger or smarter or more confident, more attractive, more successful; bigger. When I am moving through my day I am confident I can possess this something that will satisfy me like sleep or love or death or duty. As a man, I confess, I have relied on duties to avoid repeating the moment of laying on my side waiting for something to take me. Duties save me from those empty waiting moments, by spending distracting and aimless energies and saving me from waiting through those moments that are not really empty but are full of waiting. Maybe this struggle is why death has become my companion later in life.


When we landed in Rome, we walked rather than slept the first day. I led my son along familiar streets, looking for those trees filled with birds along the Tevere, arriving for coffee at St. Eustacchio and pizza in Campo de Fiori, cajoling my companion into a pair of sporty Italian walking shoes, wandering the city’s maze among carabinieri, beautiful young women in overcoats and high heels, older men wearing ties, their coats shoulder-draped, walking in twos, arm in arm, all in the metallic light and rain puddle reflections of the great city in early winter.

This is a city that calls to me. It makes the most gracious invitation, always, to stay: become a citizen of Rome; walk my streets until you possess me, beloved, in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Experience the moments after ecstasy, with the windows of the two hundred year old pallazzo open to the city so that the city enters, laying between you and your lover on warm bedsheets in softening light of late afternoon. Months later I will awkwardly recognize it approaching, this realization that place is the perfect companion, better than the most beautiful woman I have loved, because place is always there, always waiting for me.


On the second day in Rome we met with attorneys, an appointment arranged through a law office back home.

We found the studio on Vialle Castro Pretorio, beyond Piazza Repubblica and its brilliant fountain, in mid morning. We sat on low deep quilted leather benches in the ultra-modern lobby, the hazy sunlight cooled through frosted glass, sitting so low my knees were above my belt so that, rising from that low center of gravity I experienced a moment of doubt and vulnerability when the receptionist called us to our feet. The ride up the elevator was barely long enough to dispel uncertainty, so when we arrived at the conference table and sat, waiting for our two attorneys to arrive, I was reluctant to relax.

The meeting changed everything. A senior partner attended by a younger associate were open and intelligent, and set out a clear plan.

The senior partner is beautiful. You’d agree if you had sat across the mahogany table from her for thirty seconds, let alone an hour. She wore layers of fine wool and silks in Florentine colors against the warm color of her skin; luxurious bangles of silver bracelets along her thin tanned wrists, a large ring set with onyx on her left hand, which is narrow and strongly veined; dangling earrings of silver and onyx, and a family of delicate silver chains around her neck which draped and turned slowly, as she leaned forward and held my attention, against the broad warm plane of her chest. Her jaw is narrow and strong, and her eyes are shining black, and look directly into your own. Her hair is luminous as polished black walnut and her voice low, coming across the table smooth as a flume before her steady dark gaze. She smiles, and the atmosphere of strict modern style in the room transforms with the warmth of tapestry and leather and sunlight. Her name is the sound of a cricket alone on a mountainside in a star-filled night. I am an old man, but this woman sets me afloat on a dreamy sea of possibilities.

As we descend to ground level, I remind myself: this is a trip without women.  In fact, my secret is that I’m here trying to forget a woman; but maybe the gods don’t like it so much that I’m trying to lose my junk in their backyard, and so they remind me of a woman’s beauty and show me this particular woman, to demonstrate that a woman can be as real as life can get.

As it turns out, the senior partner is married — I wish her husband well. He is an architect with a sailing boat. He offers her plenty, I’m sure. I hope they are very happy. In this way I neatly clip off my trailing interest in what I found upstairs, and turn my attention to our walk back along the river to our hotel.

My son leads the way. I watch him, following at ten paces. The sun’s heat is raising humidity from the ground soaked by days of heavy rain, the air heavy above the saturated concrete, mist rising from the weed beds and pitted ancient statuary, from the elaborate basins of fountains, from the hanging rooftop gardens. We skirt traffic and stick to the shadows.

Although he walks with determination, my son is lost. He turns this way, proceeds one hundred paces and abruptly cuts his direction by ninety degrees. He walks, I follow. The only way to eventually acquire one’s bearings is to get lost. I have a sense of our position, and so I’m enjoying this exercise; by the looks of his shoulders and the tightness in his neck, my son, bless him, is screwing himself into the tight grain of frustration. When he stops and turns to me, his face set solidly, I smile a relaxed smile and, pulling my left hand out of my pocket, point. He waits. I step closer, touch his shoulder, which tilts away from my hand, and we proceed west.

Navigating in this city, as in any city, is very difficult without a map. I carry one in my back pocket, one I’ve carried before, it’s creases fuzzy and soft; I know it’s there as I know where I am at the moment, by sun and by dead reckoning. We walk side by side back to the river and the hotel on the west bank.

The structure of most cities discourages intuition. Buildings are the most obvious, sometimes the only, features of the landscape, if the day is anything but clear, or if it’s night. The city’s builders dominate even in their absence a visitor’s experience, determine the ease or difficulty of finding one’s way. Directions can seem arbitrary, network of streets a confusing overlay, the master plan often having nothing to do with the original lay of the land; one has to walk a distance, if one is lucky enough to be lost in a city with hills, to a high place to orient one’s position. In the end, the topography of a city’s soul can be known only by its citizens.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

It’s An Intimate Experience
In the summer of 1967, when I was 16 years old, I fell in love. In Spain. With a dancer. I never knew her name, she never asked me mine. We were together for one night. I never felt her hand in mine, never was touched by her lips. It was better than that. She wore a red dress. She twirled her firey soul around me. For two hours, I was enthralled by her mystery and passion. She sang, she clapped, her shoes drummed the hollow wood stage. She was Flamenco.

You have a chance to find yourself thus enchanted the evening of April 11, when two great artists spin their magic in Twisp.

Eric and EncarnaciĆ²n, guitarist and dancer comprising Flamenco Seattle (, will perform on the Tappi stage during a night that will include an Andalusian-inspired dinner and Spanish wines.

After a brief, colorful explanation of Flamenco, its origins and expressions, house lights will dim and the mesmerizing EncarnaciĆ²n, accompanied by the world-class guitar artistry of her partner Eric Jaeger, will dazzle guests with two thirty minute sets of dancing, singing and playing. Dinner will follow.

Cost for the evening is $70/person, not including tax and tip. Doors open at 6:30 for a welcoming pour of sparkling wine, and appetizers. Flamenco performance will begin at 7 p.m.. Dinner will follow at 8, featuring an array of dishes, including recipes inspired by the cultures of southern Spain and the Mediterranean. Dinner wines will include varietals of old Spanish vines.

The evening is by reservation only. Join us by calling John at Tappi: 509-997-3345.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

There is this soul, this essence of my family that comes through me when I cook for you. My mother at the stove and my father waiting at the table; my sisters helping in the kitchen with the windows steamed and night outside on a dark late November evening; electric burners ticking, pots steaming, the sound of thick red sauce simmering, heavy bubbles bursting on the liquid tomato surface, and the fragrant steam coming off the pot; and salted water rolling beneath vapor plumes that rattle the tilted lid; and my mom’s small silhouette under the stove hood light. She stands there stirring pots while life rises and falls around her: I am a child with my Nonna sitting just out of view, her heavy-muscled legs spread and solid under a grandmother dress and apron as she peels apples into a bowl for pie; then I’m a teenager and my grandmother is dead many years and I and my sisters grow without being asked, back and forth from high school and colleges, always coming home to have dinner with mom and dad; my arc shoots me over the mountains into Methow soil, where my own family takes root and grows while my parents age and my sisters follow their own trajectories to New York and San Francisco and Austin, always tethered to my mother’s kitchen and my parents’ dinner table, the simmering pasta water and warm room, and in my memory no one is speaking, only the sounds of all of us together working in the kitchen to bring dinner into being, my father’s chair scooting under his weight tight to the table where he waits for us to join him, Charlotte making salad, the wooden tools clapping against the wooden bowl; Angela and Linda cutting bread and warming the pasta bowl with a ladle of boiled salted water; and I am standing in the doorway, watching it all, breathing it, closing my eyes and listening, calling to all those I grew up loving and all those I’ve loved since — all of us called to the table, to my parents’ table, a seat for everyone: my children and all the children and their mothers, and all the women I’ve loved; my best friends since childhood, all the elders, every family who has ever stepped through our front door and all those who have invited us to their tables, and my Nonna Carlotta and my grandfathers Emilio and Antonio who spoke to me, speak to me still, from photographs, all of them with me, standing behind me, called to our table, every time I cook for you.

Sunday, September 29, 2013



I feed my sorrows to the fire.

Last January I lost my beautiful son, William. My daughter Anna lost her beloved brother; their mother, Laura, lost her younger child; our families lost a precious part of who we are, who we have been, and all that we could have become.

The loss is bottomless, unfathomable. It is a dark well where my heart is cast down. What suspends the hopeless tumbling is my work before the fire. Working with fire these past months has saved my life, perhaps; certainly it has preserved my life’s equilibrium. The flames purify my grief.

Build a fire; stare into the flames, feel its heat on your face. Let it dry your eyes.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Danish, with French roots, from Tuscany & Patagonia

Winemaker’s Dinners at Tappi in Twisp just keep getting better and better.

In mid-July, wines from two hemispheres will be poured in multi-course meals on two consecutive nights.

Hans Vinding-Diers, winemaker both at Argiano, the centuries-old estate at the heart of Montalcino, Italy’s SuperTuscan movement, and Bodega Neomia de Patagonia, an enclave of prize-winning international style winemaking in Argentina, will entertain and educate guests July 14 & 15.

Seats at the multi-course dinners — which will feature regional recipes prepared by chef John Bonica — are by reservation only, on a first-come-first served basis.

The entire restaurant will be dedicated to the Vinding-Diers dinners; regular service at Tappi will be suspended those nights.

Cost for the dinners, covering four courses paired with the wines, will be announced by July 1. Tax and gratuities will be extra. Reservations for both nights will cost less than each night purchased individually.

Vinding-Diers is Danish, born in South Africa and raised in France, who worked 44 vineyard harvests by the time he was 40. He is an internationally acclaimed winemaker in Tuscany, Italy and Patagonia, Argentina, where he partners with Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano, owner of Argiano, to produce award-winning vintages.

Saturday’s Tuscan dinner will include five Argiano wines:
Non Confunditor IGT (Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese/Merlot/Syrah)
Rosso di Montalcino DOC (young Sangiovese)
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (aged Sangiovese)
Solengo IGT (Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot/Syrah/Merlot)
Suolo IGT (Argiano’s oldest Sangiovese)

Sunday’s Patagonian dinner will feature four wines from Bodega Noemia:
Bodega Noemia Malbec (Malbec, 80-year-old vines)
J. Alberto (50 year-old Malbec/Merlot)
A. Lisa (Malbec/Merlot/Petit Verdot)
Noemia “2” (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot)

The Sunday dinner will be the first time that non-Italian wines ever have been poured at Tappi.

The Argiano estate was built in 1580 near the Altar of Janus, ancient Roman god, and was at the heart of the Super Tuscan revolution 30 years ago. Under the leadership of Cinzano and Vinding-Diers, Argiano continues to craft some of Italy’s most finely-structured and elegant wines.
All cultivation at the estate and the vineyards is organic.

In 2000, Cinzano and Vinding-Diers found a property in the high mountain desert of Patagonia, land first irrigated nearly 200 years ago, then planted with Malbec nearly 100 years ago. Malbec, the lesser known French grape which can play a supporting role in the blending of Bordeaux, has ascended its potential to become the king of South American wines. Today, Bodega Noemia de Patagonia is farmed according to strict organic and biodynamic practices.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Do you remember your first fire? Do you remember how you built your first fire, where you were? Were you alone? Did someone teach you?

Do you build fires these days? In a Weber barbecue? In a heater stove in your house? Do you handle split seasoned trees, with gloves or in your bare hands? How does the wood feel in your grip? What’s your technique: How do you build a fire?

I’m inviting you to write me about your experiences with fires — not the destructive blaze that reduced a home to charred remains; and not the inferno that ran faster than wild animals through a forest. I am interested in hearing about your experience with a personal fire, the intimacy of building a fire for cooking or for warmth. I’ll receive your reports and publish some of them here, on the blog. Send them to P.O. Box 1275, Twisp. Wa. or my email address,

My wood-fired oven is a centerpiece of experience at Tappi, and keeping a fire there is part of my job that is solitary and gratifying and fascinating.

The fire in my oven lives and leads and follows. It’s a wild thing in my dining room. It can be ferocious or quiet, flare suddenly or wait patiently. Interacting with that fire in my oven, where temperatures range from 700 to 1200 degrees during my work, is an intimate experience. Reflecting on the power of fire in my life, and my encounters with it since childhood, has been a surprisingly deep experience as I write this.

Fires are memories. They flicker and warm me, now sixty years old in my sixty year old house on Burton Street in Twisp, as I sit at my desk feeling the propane stove radiating behind me and watching through my patio window, glorious spring morning sun warm the backyard.

When I was seven I burned up army men in the basement. My cousin Tony was 18 months younger and trusted everything I said; so when I brought out the shoebox of plastic soldiers and a matchbook and led Tony downstairs into the old furnace room at 44 Summit Rd in Tacoma, where we grew up, he followed me. We piled the green guys in a pyramid and I struck the match. The flame was mesmerizing, the stink nauseating, and the waxy hardened puddle of green stuck hard to the concrete floor. I learned my first and strongest lesson about fire as well as taking responsibility for my actions. After my mother caught us, I tried to fake her out by pointing my finger at Tony; She didn’t stare at me long, but it was long enough to squeeze a confession; I can still feel a guilty flutter when I remember blaming my dear, innocent cousin.

My Sicilian grandmother, Angela Zagame Bonica, also built hot fires in the basement of that house, but she tended her’s in a cast iron stove in the laundry room. That stove was in the house in ’48 when my parents bought it; the house itself dated to 1886, the same year Angela Zagame was born. The stove — as I remember it — could have been that old. Not to say it was rickety; it was not. On the contrary, it was as stout as a stump, and burned with an even severity. Nonna, for that’s what I called my grandmother, was not much of a cook. But she stoked a long hot blaze in that black stove, opening its heavy door to a bright yellow and white fire within, simmering a Sicilian tradition, vino cotto, a heavy black sweet syrup that we prized for holiday treats. Vino cotto was the only concoction I remember nonna bothering with; she was too impatient to spend much time cooking — maybe an egg if she couldn’t wait for my mom to cook for her. Vino cotto simmered in a commercial size kettle on that stove, Nonna keeping the fire crackling and the cast iron ticking with its deep even heat for three days while the raisins bubbled away to a thick liquid as black as licorice. The big pot’s exhalations varnished the walls of the room with tackiness that snagged dust from the wood bin.

I learned to build a legitimate, outside fire at the bottom of a seam of wilderness, the great gulch, that ran through the middle of Tacoma, where I grew up, using cedar bark and twigs and deadfall. Kneeling, palms open on the damp earth, my left cheek so close to leafy decay that it brushed my skin and its deep scent filled my nose, I watched the match flame flicker and catch. I blew softly into the tinder pile listened to the small crackle of fire coming to life. Those first fires were an exquisite intimacy for a young boy, and in some mysterious way, freeing. They lighted my path.

There have been other beautiful and memorable fires; and they were usually solitary, shared with no one, light and warmth in the intimacy of being alone in the woods. In the cedar grove on Lost River, in the throat of the canyon a day’s walk above Monument Creek, where I spent days solo with a black dog and a fly rod, there was the small snapping fire of cedar twigs. I kept a low flame to sizzle the skin of the two small wild cutthroat I ate in September’s late afternoon light, with a cup of whiskey and spring water to help warm me after a day of wading. Another year, further downstream, I built a larger fire — maybe ten inches across — in a ring of stones, canter-levering the six inch cast iron skillet I carried, along with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, a ripe tomato wrapped in a heavy sweater, and a sweet yellow onion: the dimensions of Lost River trout, a dish I built in seclusion on my favorite drainage in the world, a vivid and well-seasoned meal which never tastes as good as it does there.

Friday, November 18, 2011



A few weeks ago, during a busy late-summer night at Tappi, two women — one about my age, the other old enough to be my mother — sat at Table 3, my favorite little two-top that’s tucked into the corner underneath the old map of Venice, the one that used to hang in my parents’ study on Mercer Island. That map, like other framed mementos in the restaurant, is one of my treasures: it reminds me of where I came from — not especially Mercer Island, but those other islands at the head of the Adriatic, where my mother Emma’s family lived and worked for generations.

From my work at the pizza oven, I can scan the dining room. It’s one of my favorite features of Tappi’s layout. It’s reassuring to watch my staff take care of our guests and I can, over the course of the evening, study faces for clues of how well we are doing our jobs.

As the light outside faded and Tappi’s interior came into focus in the windows’ reflections, I could see the beauty of the older lady at Table 3 in the Rembrandt colors on the glass. She reminded me of my mom: warm and lively eyes, hair tastefully styled, well-dressed, graceful in age. An old-world atmosphere surrounded her, like a subtle and rare perfume. I was drawn to her, something familiar and sad, and I made certain I had a free moment — and my hands were clean — when she stood up to make her way to the door. I came around the counter to thank her for coming in. When I said hello and she asked if I was the cook, she took my hand in hers and, ever so gently, pulled me closer. Her eyes welled-up and looked directly into my own as she said, “I haven’t tasted sauce like that since my grandmother died.”

We are all connected, sometimes in unseen ways; and, sometimes, food brings us together.


This week, I’d like to spend time telling you about three Tappi essentials nestled into the regular menu that are consistently guests’ favorites; they are also my favorites, and the centerpiece recipes of Tappi cuisine.

It’s difficult to get far in any Italian kitchen without making sauce. What I mean by that is tomato sauce. In my family, we called it, simply, sauce.

Actually, we called it “The Sauce”. It is basic and noble and must be a seamless integration of all its ingredients — the herbs, the spices, the vegetables and the starring fruit, the oil and, the most important ingredient of all, time — the time to cook and the time to mellow. My sauce isn’t ready for guests until it’s been on the stove for a day. A workday comes to mind, eight hours, with maybe a few hours of overtime. The heat must be patient, but steady, with a little reposo: a midday rest from the exertion of alchemy. Let it rest over the pilot light.

The Sauce provides the perfect medium for Emma’s Lasagna, the hearty layer upon layer of fresh egg pasta sheets, mozzarella, spinach, bechamel, and spinach. When it comes to the table, you should be tempted to eat it with a fork and a spoon.

I’m really happy with the Sugo Filicudadi, the ripe plum tomato sauce that dresses the Game Hen Cacciatoro. This sauce reminds me of the remote island in the Tyrrhenian Sea where my father’s people come from. In my early twenties, I took a break from college studies and removed myself to Filicudi. I was missing something, I didn’t know what; so, taking my mother’s advice, I followed my intuition to Filicudi.

The island was a primitive place back then; it is still as wild, at its heart, as the Methow. The sugo I make for the Cacciatoro (I’m both hunter and cook, although these birds are farm-raised) is very similar to the quick sauce Zia Pepina made throughout the week. Zia Pepina was ageless and small and quick, and always dressed in black. A distant cousin of my Grandfather, she told me the only stories I know about him, and when I found myself in an unheated loft above the sea with winter coming on, Zia Pepina and her son Stephano took me in.

The ingredients for this sugo came from Zia’s wild and prolific garden. Plum tomatoes hung by their vines from the loggia — rough-hewn logs in an overhead framework that support shade-giving bougainvillea. The red fruit was harvested a few days before full ripeness and suspended to consolidate the sugars out of the intense skin-burning Mediterranean sun. Black olives from the trees lining the upper terrace were brine-cured in a bucket outside the kitchen door; I dipped for a glistening handful often, to add to the sauce or to eat from a small chipped bowl, with a piece of bread and a glass of wine, after a morning of pulling fish traps. The capers and onions and garlic all came from the many terraced gardens surrounding the house.

Although Zia usually simmered fresh rock fish in this rich blend of whole tomatoes, black olives, onions, capers and oil — seasoned generously with sea salt, black pepper, and oregano , and a pinch of hot pepper — it works very well with the game hen at Tappi. In fact, the brightness of tomato and caper blended with the hen’s sweetness is a lively mouthful. We’re serving the Sugo & Hen over penne pasta. After a few minutes’ roasting time in the wood oven, the plate is a hot and satisfying meal.

If any of my creations at Tappi tempt me to stake a proprietary claim, it is the cuscino. It is so delicious, so satisfying, so habit-forming, that my friend Orlando wants me to open up a Cuscino Store in the Piedmont. There, he says, we would sell only cuscini to unsuspecting Italians, and we would become rich. The Tappi cuscino is made-to-order oven bread, a round cushion of crust and air and chewy interior, that can come to the table in a variety of ways — with oven roasted tomatoes, with chevre, with both, or simply, as always, in a generous bath of extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pungent dry oregano.

So, two sauces and the bread. Honestly, if a guest asked for just these — a bowl of sauce and cuscino for dipping — and a glass of wine for dinner, I would know I’ve met a kindred soul.