Today we had our annual staff lunch to celebrate Christmas together. There are six of us who work at the church: Kate O, who oversees the children and youth ministries and helps me with pastoral care, Tony Baldwin who leads the choir and plays the organ, Miranda Macdonald who manages the office, and Monty Strikes who runs Latchcourt Ltd., the room rental business here at the church. We all work together to make this place run, and I'm grateful for their skill and good humor.
So...we thought for a long time about where to go for our special lunch. A few of our favorites were already booked up, and so I went to my local Italian place and proposed an idea.
Gianni and Daniela Palermo have a restaurant near the church called The Fitzrovia, which is the name for our neighborhood. It's a small place--just about 5-6 tables--but it's good food and not expensive. They also do a morning special with a pastry and cappuccino for a pound, which is a steal. Anyway, over the last year I've gotten to know Gianni and Daniela pretty well. She just finished a theology degree at King's College London, and we've had lots of good conversations about faith and church and living in London. The have two kids, named Giovanni and Gina, who also work at the restaurant every once in a while.
I went to Gianni a few weeks ago and asked him for a special favor. I told him that I wanted to bring the staff in to eat, but that we didn't want to order off the menu. I asked him to make a Christmas meal for us, and you wouldn't believe what he did.
Now brace yourself, because this is going to make you very hungry.
It's been cold and clear here in London, so we came in with a bit of a chill and sat down at the table that was reserved for us. First thing out was some garlic bread, almost too hot to hold. They make it on pizza crust, and it tastes just like something my Grandma D'Elia used to make: with olive oil, chopped garlic and oregano on top, crispy from the oven. Next we had little decorative tureens of celery soup, which was delicious. It was perfect for the cold day--the soup was really good.
When that was cleared away they brought a different sort of dish--soft crepe-like pancakes stuffed with ricotta and spinach. The spices were perfect: some sage, some parsley, and a little garlic.
Next up was the main course (I know, I know, this was a LOT of food). Gianni and his daughter brought out bowls of polenta (a traditional Italian corn meal dish), with a veal stew to ladle over it. This stew was amazing: peppers, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and chunks of veal you could cut with the side of a fork. It was delicious--the combination of meat stew and polenta was new to me, but I'm already scheming to have it again. It was one of the best dishes I've ever had.
We were stuffed at this point. We all had a little more than we should have eaten, but no one wanted to let any of it go to waste. We were lamenting how full we were when Gianni brought out the dessert.
Each of us got a large piece of pannetone, smothered in a cream/sugar/rum sauce that was out of this world. We soldiered on, and almost all of us ate the entire dish. We topped it off with espresso, and then sat around feeling contented and a little overfed. It was a great lunch, and a very kind and special gesture from my local Italian friend.
I don't know if he'll check this posting, but I want to say publicly: Thank you, Gianni, for the wonderful Christmas feast. We won't forget what you did for us today!