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It’s been drizzling all day. Just a minute ago the sun snuck out behind a leftover rain cloud, and is now shining rather bleakly into the bedroom, where I’m sitting propped up against cushions with a light throw over my legs, feeling the dip in temperature on this autumn afternoon.

Earlier I put a big pot of bolognese sauce on a medium flame on my gas stove, going patiently through Marzella Hazan’s recipe which requires chopping of carrot, onion and celery, frying it all together, adding the minced beef, frying that until done, adding a glassful of white wine, reducing, and only then pouring the contents of two tinned chopped Italian tomatoes into the pot, rosemary from the garden, a fat clove of garlic, salt and some sugar, stock to almost fill the pot, and then letting it simmer almost silently for three hours or so. Now I can relax a little on this, my afternoon off from work, nursing a still sore neck which yesterday had me in my GP’s rooms with a rather hypochodriacal fear that I may have contracted meningitis. I could not bend my head forward when I woke up, and felt feverish. No meningitis, rather very stiff tense shoulder and neck muscles which hopefully will resolve itself soon.

I thought that I’d fall asleep, but in stead I am thinking about my husband’s 60th birthday party coming up in May. We had to decide how we will celebrate: either a small handful of very select friends at a good restaurant, or a couple more people at home in a less formal way. By the time our final list of friends and family reached 40, we knew that it would be the latter. Which presented another challenge: should I have it catered, cocktail style, or should I do it myself? And I have decided to do it myself. The fragrant bolognaise smells from the kitchen as I write, remind me why I chose an Italian inspired menu: easy, flavourful, hearty and homely.

For starters with champagne I will have bruscetta with three or so toppings, which I may serve bruscetta-bar style: heaps of toasted, garlicky roundrels of ciabatta which the guests can top themselves, or maybe I shall do a more formal display of ready topped slices, easily picked up and casually eaten while everyone arrives. I imagine two huge antipasti platters, the contents which I will shop for at Super Sconto a day before: imagine artichoke hearts, prosciutto, olives, gorgonzola, roasted tomatoes… Then, as a main meal, a venison and beef stew, rustic and hearty, served in little bowls with soft, buttery, parmesan rich polenta. For the vegetarian guests of which there will be a few, I will have a flavourful, tomatoey stew, also served with polenta. Perfect for an early winter party. And deeply satisfying. And above all, able to be eaten standing up or sitting on arms of sofas and various chairs or huddled around braziers glowing with hot embers in the garden and on the back stoep.

I can almost hear the hubbub and hum, snatches of conversation as people recall that the last time they’d been together like this, was at our wedding. I hope that the evening will evolve into our musician friends making music…Toasts, well wishes, songs maybe, and some tears which I’ll inevitable cry for my sons, and my husband’s family who will not be here to share this with us: all too far away. And my parents who are gone from this earth and never really knew me happily married and settled in the certainly of living out my life with one beloved, this man who has been my constant companion, my biggest admirer, my most tender and devoted lover.

I’m not sure what I’ll offer as dessert: maybe simply good coffee, Vin Santo and biscotti; I still have time to decide. But what a lovely prospect: to celebrate a 60th birthday with the man whom, just 6 years ago, I did not know would be my husband.

In a while we will have a simple beef ragu (the first time I said that out loud, I felt hugely sophisticated!) on spaghetti, with freshly grated parmesan on top, and a crunchy green salad freshly picked from the veggie patch. And I’ll be reminded of the preciousness of every meal shared with the ones we love, and with this man whom I love and hope to live out my life with.

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