I don't generally take much notice of birthdays, but the change in decade seems to get people's pulses racing, and expectations all round are raised. Inevitably, the event was marked.
Fortunately, the barn was (practically) finished - albeit with an interesting pile of lumber offcuts, arranged tidily across one end; but at least lunch amidst scaffolding and cement mixers was avoided.
In fact, we started the celebration the evening before, as the Belforte group were staying for the night out at Locanda Sant'Agata - Anna and Luca's new restaurant-with-rooms out in the countryside on the way to the lower slopes of Monte Pisano - and we joined them there for dinner. Sunset over Gello, and splendid food (an absolutely excellent gnocchi with coniglio!), and, later, watching the evening mists rise as the heat of the day receded. The season is already changing, and soon that wonderful period will begin of soft autumn mists in the mornings, as the sun gathers strength and decides that perhaps summer isn't quite over, after all.
And the day itself. In the morning, the four-footeds gave me a beautiful air-twist stemmed georgian wine glass for my collection, which took pride of place in one of the display cabinets in the Pranzo - and then, it was sleeves rolled up, and on with lunch. Experience dictates that, on such occasions, unless 99% of cooking has been sorted out before the first guests arrive, and the first corks are popped, then the whole process risks descending into chaos. Fortunately, I just about made it, and by the time everybody was standing around in the kitchen emptying jugs of kir, and crunching fried sage leaves, all I had to do was stir things gently, whilst clutching a glass in the other hand.
The weather was beautiful; the day was perfect. The theme for lunch was 'champagne': champagne risotto, followed by guinea-fowl in champagne sauce, before champagne sorbet with fresh raspberries. And to drink, there was either Roederer or Piper Heidseick.
The Brancolis and Belfortes had plotted, and between them all I received a set of gardening tools worthy of Mr Macgregor himself, half of which were handmade in Tuscany, and the rest came from a venerable manufacturer in Holland. Mouth-wateringly splendid! And an additional gift from the Brancolis was a chinese fir tree, to go at the far end of the lily pond, with which I can christen my new tree-planting shovel.
Lunch over, we drifted through the rather short afternoon, until it was time for the Technical Department to produce tea, along with the cake he'd made (one candle only!) which was filled with limoncino-flavoured cream, and decorated with frosted limoncino leaves. A perfect end to the celebration, as the Brancolis then had to wend their way back up the hill in order to spend the evening strimming their vineyard...
During a post-prandial lull people sat, quietly chatting or reading, and I wandered round, watering roses, as the evening shadows lengthened, and the background sounds of clearing up were faintly discernible from the direction of the kitchen. The sun went down, many candles were lit in the barn and around the lily pond, as a beautiful full moon rose behind the romitorio; we finished the day with a late supper of smoked salmon and chilled pinot grigio, with the sound of the fountain gently splashing, and the moonlight shone through the pigeon-house tiling to make a cheese-grater pattern on the end wall of the barn. The four-footeds were stretched contentedly on the gravel, and all was well with the world.
Tiger Prawns in Garlic.
Double-roast lamb shanks; buttered cabbage (we're in London for three days)
Peach and Redcurrant Tarts.