Lorraine Hanlon Comanor
“What do you think of the sauce?” he asked, as we tackled his rabbit simmered in chianti with boletes. In the candlelight, the rugged face was still handsome after half a century, although its former frame of wheat hair was now snow white. I’d met him as a teen in Provence, where he was working as a waiter, our summer romance curtailed by my mother, who, initially unaware of his intentions, had once remarked, “There goes a Roman god.” Six months ago, he’d found me on Facebook and, following multiple Skypes, we were sharing our first dinner in fifty years in his Ticino home.
“Do you realize the effort I’ve gone to just for you?” He’d been cooking for weeks before my arrival, freezing meals to provide choices each evening, even going to the local woods to gather mushrooms for the sauces. As an Italian, he explained, he knew all the right places.
“Delicious,” I said, never before having had such culinary effort extended on my behalf.
How to improve on delicioso? Multo buono, surely a comedown. How would Hazan or Tucci describe a tomato, wine, porcini sauce thickened with arrowroot?
“What about the consistency?”
Rich, velvety . . . feline? A more nuanced sauce, say with a touch of Dijon or dash of oregano, could indeed sneak up on one. I hesitated and he rushed to fill the void.
“Americans don’t know anything about cooking. They just eat at McDonald’s. Not many people can make a sauce like this.” His forget-me-not- eyes—“occhi della Madonna,” he’d once told me—met mine in a cool stare.
Liberace on the stereo was starting to grate. The rabbit thigh threatened a glissade across the plate, sending a mushroom flying. Lavish praise didn’t come easily to us New Englanders, the art of the compliment, not one of our holiday games. But to keep this romantic adventure on track, I needed an additional expression of admiration, even a platitude.
“The perfect marriage . . .” I began, but before I could utter “of flavor and texture,” he said, without a trace of tease, “You’re a miser with compliments.”
Lorraine Hanlon Comanor is a former U.S. figure skating champion and anesthesiologist. She graduated from Harvard University, Stanford University Medical School, and Bennington Writing Seminars, and she has authored or co-authored 35 medical publications. She’s also published personal essays in New England Review (Pushcart nominee), Boulevard (“Notable” in Best American Essays of 2020) Little Patuxent Review, and New Letters, among other publications.