My friend Naomi and I once went to a resort in the Haliburton Highlands for the weekend. We were the only guests, strange at the best of times, ominous if you have seen The Shining. The chef was delighted to see us. So delighted he asked us if there was anything we didn’t like. I told him the one thing I did not like, from its texture to its taste, was kidneys. “Ah!” he said, “but you’ve never had my warm kidney salad,” his eyes, well, shining.
Note well: never tell someone who likes to cook that you don’t like THING YOU HATE GOES HERE, because they will say, “You should try HATED THING GOES HERE PREPARED IN QUESTIONABLE WAYS.”
I visited my friend Leah recently. We stood on her tranquil west facing balcony discussing what she wanted to plant there. She mentioned tomatoes. I suggested cherry tomatoes. Gentle Reader, you can be in no doubt as to her response. Yes, she does not like cherry tomatoes. My rose bud lips were forming the words “but you’ve never had my—” when thankfully the buzzer rang heralding other guests and I was saved from myself.
But you, Gentle Reader, are not.
This adaptation of a Lidia Bastianich recipe is fast, easy and it sings of spring (to me at least). Halve three cups of cherry tomatoes. Toss them in a large serving bowl with some olive oil, crushed red pepper flakes and salt. Let them marinate for about 20 minutes. Cook a pound of fusilli or rotini, reserving half a cup of the cooking water. Stir the pasta water into the marinated tomatoes along with some shredded fresh basil. Add the pasta and toss with the grated cheese of your choice, parmesan, asiago, pecorino or even chevre. This IS good.
Warm kidney salad, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired: something without kidneys.
My parents immigrated to Canada in the late 50s leaving behind an England that my father felt closed its doors on him even before he knocked. Why? He didn’t go to the right school, he didn’t have a posh accent, in short he didn’t know the secret handshake.
He was baffled by Anglophiles. I remember him telling me that in England they built buildings to last a thousand years. In this country, he said approvingly, you build a building and 10 years later you tear it down and put up something better. (No, he wasn’t on Toronto City Council.)
At almost the same time as my parents left, Clive James went to England from Australia and Andrea Levy’s parents made the journey from Jamaica, resulting in their daughter’s book Small Island. Monica Ali’s Brick Lane concludes with one immigrant woman coaxing another out onto an ice rink. Does she dare? And does she dare? Her friend tells her, “This is England, you can do anything.” All of this is by way of explaining why I am intrigued by immigrants’ views of Britain.
I first discovered the poet and polymath Clive James via A Point of View essay. I ask myself why I have met so many wise and funny Australian men in print, but never in person. I am thinking of Barry Humphries, My Life As Me. I am thinking of Robert Hughes and his wonderful autobiography Things I Didn’t Know, and will take my mandatory digression here to recommend his book The Shock of the New. If you like modern art and especially if you don’t, read it. You may still not like it, but you will 'get it' and its context.
The second volume of James’ Unreliable Memoirs series, Falling Towards England is laugh out loud funny. James treats British xenophobia and bad food as well as his own lust, limitations and transgressions with equal doses of candor and wit. Here is a soupçon: “In the pub I got a piece of stale French loaf with a dead shallot laid out on it, a dollop of shepherd’s pie like a rhino’s diarrhea, and a good solid dose of rejection. By and large it is our failures that civilize us, but one doesn’t want to take that principle too far.”
Speaking of civilization, James does so brilliantly in a collection of alphabetically arranged portraits from Louis Armstrong to Hazlitt to Beatrix Potter and Wittgenstein and dozens of other fascinating men and women of diverse and occasionally dubious accomplishments called Cultural Amnesia, Notes in the Margin of My Time. It is tempting to call this a bathroom book because some of the essays are quite short, but it is more like a salle de bain book in the Sorbonne.