If you want to know why I love having dinners in my back garden, all you have to do is look at the photo above. The woman is Rosaria Amato—my Sicilian great-grandmother—and she is helping to cook a family dinner in the back garden of her son Sam with one of her brothers. Over her shoulder you can see my grandfather’s veggie garden. He worked full-time as a produce man at a local grocery store and relaxed by growing food.
My Grandma Virginia cared for the garden that surround their house on SE Vernie Avenue and Grandpa Sam grew food next door. This way they both tended to their own space. The older generation came out from the city and enjoyed time in the suburbs. Once there, they were surrounded by many Italian truck farms which are all long gone. All of this was just minutes from where many of them lived in SE Portland. I didn’t experience these moments of course, but I was born into what I can only call the nostalgic era of the many memories of these dinners. (I was able to eat my great-grandmother’s food though but only at her home in Portland.)
My father recreated these feelings as best as he could during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. After we slowly lost the original Sicilian generation, cooking became more and more important to him. I’m grateful that growing up we had many guests who came to my parents home for meals. We often ate on the back deck, or in the kitchen, looking out over the large garden space my mother had created. Dad always served a healthy version of his pasta with veggies with either salmon or sausage. It’s his signature dish.
In the coastal woods, at his second home, for many years he cooked over an open fire. The first stove we had there was very similar to the fire pit in the photo above. Roughing it—peasant style—became something I was attracted to as well in my 20s when all we had was a trailer in the woods with a fire pit. I love the house that was eventually built, but I do miss cooking over an open fire. Dinners at my place are hosted by myself and I tend to arrive to the table with plates looking a bit tired. I hope this year to alleviate some of this exhaustion, but in the past, it has made for some funny photos. I cook in my kitchen, and luckily, I have a lot of signature dishes. To prepare for these dinners I’m usually cooking for two solid days in a row. I like to cook nearly everything from scratch—and this includes all stocks.
This year you can expect a lot more homegrown vegetables at my dinners—and some will be more familiar to guests than others. I’m not the vegetable grower that my Grandpa Sam and his father both were, but I’m not too shabby. Each year I get better at it but I’ve learned that the real secret is not being a horticulturist with a lot of other plants to tend to at the same time. Luckily, I can credit my husband John with the survival of our crops. His love of fresh tomatoes has him watering more regularly and tending to plants more carefully nowadays.
Lastly, I’d like to add that my dinners are fairly casual. Folks sometimes bring and drink a lot of wine, and conversation topics can vary greatly. The food I cook is Italian, and not Italian-American. I tend to cook regional dinners. If you know me, I can be funny and I love nothing more than to laugh and have a good time with warm and kind folks. If you have any questions, or are interested but want to know more, please reach out and ask me.
I don’t have any reviews to share, but I can share this one comment left on Instagram by a former coworker from Cistus Nursery, “I felt like I was in Martha Stewart’s wet dream.” (This is written underneath the photo of me above.) Now if that doesn’t whet your curiosity, I don’t know what else I can throw out there for you. 🙂 If you’re offended, I’m sorry. I thought it was a rather sweet compliment about her experience that evening.
All proceeds this year are going into my savings for a European Garden Tour in 2021. In the coming months I’ll have updated posts too about the veggies I’ll be growing in our community garden plot, here at home, and at my place of employment out in Canby.
The menus are not yet set (but they will be soon). If you’d like to sign up for one of the two dinners I have scheduled already, please follow the link to the Garden Dinners page below. If these both fill up, I will post more dates with other dining options. Honestly, I’d like to cook a total of 4 dinners but we’ll have to wait and see if folks want to come. I really hope you do.
Thanks again for reading my post and I hope to see you here at Campiello Maurizio soon!