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Eating with the angels, p.1
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       Eating With the Angels, p.1

           Sarah-Kate Lynch
Eating With the Angels

  Taste means everything to restaurant critic Connie Farrell, so when her husband Tom fails to turn up for their second honeymoon in fairytale Venice she’s rattled but she doesn’t lose her appetite. Indeed, handsome gondolier Marco sates her with all manner of mouth-watering delicacies, including himself. And then there’s the silver-haired Luca, mature and, oh, so tasty. Come to think of it, every second honeymoon should be so sweet …

  But all turns sour back home in New York when Connie is dealt the cruellest blow imaginable. Suddenly, there’s nothing on the menu but heartache and sorrow. Her marriage is over, her lover’s a stranger, her mother is poisonous and no porcini velouté, no thrice-roasted duck, no hot chocolate upside-down soufflé can fix all that because Connie can’t remember what she truly finds delicious.

  Eating with the Angels

  Sarah-Kate Lynch

  For Anna and Ken


  Title Page





















  Eating Out Guide

  About the Author




  If I’d ever thought to draw up a list of the people most likely to turn my life upside down, I seriously doubt Woody Allen would have made the top 10 let alone occupied the number one slot.

  Sure, I never much cared for his movies post Hannah hnd her Sisters and I guess I was moderately vocal on the whole icky marrying-his-girlfriend’s-adopted-daughter thing, but that was no reason to take away my livelihood, was it? To destroy everything I had once held dear? To make me question, and I mean really question, my entire reason for being?

  Yeez, the guy almost put me off pretzels for life. What a sentence! In fact I still can’t see one without wondering how things might have turned out that day had he brought an apple from home. And while we’re on the subject of home, what is it with Woody and Central Park? I mean, hell-o-o, there are other locations in New York City. It’s just that had he not been filming on the Bow Bridge that day or had Soon-Yi baked Woody a cookie, my life would have remained right side up — not been blown into smithereens and splattered all around Manhattan and beyond like some booby-trapped multi-coloured layer cake, heavy on the frosting. But hey, this is probably not making much sense to you. Not yet anyway and believe me I know how that feels. Big time. So let me give you a word of advice right off the bat before you get any more confused, before you go any further, and that word of advice is this: relax.

  Don’t try to make sense of it too soon.

  It’ll come to you the way it came to me, seemingly clear until you get to the end when it will become really clear — making you realise how fuzzy it was at the beginning.

  I’m not explaining myself so well, am I? Okay. Have you ever seen one of those magnified pictures in a kids’ magazine? Something totally run-of-the-mill that they’ve zoomed in on times a thousand and you win a pen if you guess what it is? Well, a person can go pretty nuts looking at one of those pictures: there’s something about it, something you can’t quite put your finger on, it’s on the tip of your tongue, but you never get it and it bugs the heck out of you. Then when the magazine publishes the zoomed-out picture it turns out to be something so simple, so familiar, so perfectly everyday — a blade of grass, a speck of sand — that you can’t believe you didn’t see it right from the beginning.

  What I’m trying to say is that you’ll discover little pieces of the story the same way I did, bit by bit, right up close, but it won’t be till you stand back at the end that you’ll recognise the whole enchilada.

  Talking of enchiladas I’ve just realised that I could eat a horse (something I’m ashamed to say I have done in the past and quite enjoyed). Today, though, I think I’ll leave Black Beauty in the barn and maybe … maybe what? Once upon a time I would have jumped on the subway down to Joe’s for a slice of pizza. Just the thought of that piping-hot fresh mozzarella bubbling across the perfect crispy base has my taste buds quivering in anticipation. In fact, my mouth is watering so hard my jaw hurts and I hate it when that happens. But then my mouth is on hyper-drive these days.

  Right now, believe it or not, while my mind is definitely on a slice of pizza from Joe’s, I am also subconsciously trying not to count each fat golden grain of organic unrefined sugar that I’ve stirred into my Big Cup take-out latte — because I swear I can taste every one of them. My buds are on standby full-time, poor battered things, and if you think that sounds whacko, get a load of this: from here I can smell, with just one sniff, that the Sailor’s Delight washed-rind cheese in my refrigerator has less than 19 hours to go before it reaches its prime; that the loaf of Rock Hill Bakehouse sourdough I bought this morning is missing one 20th of a teaspoon of salt. But those Sycamore Farms New York strawberries? Perfectly ripe and ready for eating.

  I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking lay off of that caffeine, Connie, because you’re talking like a high-wired crazy person — but honestly, by the time you get to the end of my story, when you stand back and see the whole thing in context, you will understand why being able to savour every little morsel gives me such a thrill.

  Of course, before you get to the end you will probably go through quite a stretch of thinking that I am a complete nut job and you would not be alone on this one, so don’t go feeling bad about it. Hey, even I thought I had lost the plot and was never going to get it back for a while: not helped by the big stack of medical evidence to just that effect, I might add.

  But I have emerged from these past few months of hell — and heaven — not only relatively unscathed but with a new insatiable hunger for life that I never ever had before. Or if I did, I was standing too darn close to see it.

  They say that things happen for a reason, that bad things happen to good people, that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger … and yes, for most my life I thought that was baloney too. But now, I’m not so sure. (Hey, there you go! Only 18 hours till my Sailor’s Delight hits its peak.) Anyway, all I know is that because of what happened to me, because of Woody Allen and that freakin’ pretzel, I am now the person I was supposed to be, not the person I was turning into, and for that I believe we can all be truly thankful. And while it may seem weird that I’ve chosen to tell my story the way I saw it, which as you will learn is not necessarily the way it was, it was my own particular take on events that led me to reach the monumental life-changing conclusion that 50 bucks might buy you a hamburger with short ribs and foie gras — but there’s no price too high for the perfect tomato.

  Kind of a turning point for a restaurant critic, you might say. Especially in New York City, a town where people don’t eat their young, they sell them so they can pay for that hamburger.

  It’s a matter of taste.


  I’d be lying if I said my husband failing to show up for our second honeymoon didn’t rattle me. It did. It seemed rude. And not the slightest bit romantic.

  But there I found myself, sitting up in Business Class on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport, my luggage snuggled below in the hold bulging with little(-ish) black dresses and negligées, the plane pointed hopefully toward Venice, Italy, and a great gaping hole where my husband should be just to my immediate right.

  ‘Your friend is cutting it kinda fine,’ the flight attendant, Ashlee, sm
iled as she poured me a glass of champagne. My initial reaction was to ask why her parents hadn’t spelled her name the correct way, why they had found it necessary to add her to the Tiffinis and Taylas that littered the aisles of large aircraft, but I didn’t. I’m too polite. Too polite to show that my life was quite possibly unravelling before Ashlee’s very eyes thus forcing me to turn on her over the spelling of her name.

  ‘Oh, he’ll be here,’ I said smoothly instead. ‘He was late for our wedding, no reason why he’d be on time for our honeymoon.’

  Ashlee, who sported an engagement ring the size of a baseball — you would have to be blind to miss it — got a goofy look on her face and clutched the champagne bottle close to her chest, biting her ripe bottom lip.

  ‘You’re just married?’ she cooed, her youthful brow crumpling in delight.

  ‘Just 10 years ago,’ I answered with an enthusiastic nod. ‘It’s a honeymoon of the second variety.’ I took a slurp of champagne and watched the blissful look slide off her face as she looked again at the empty seat beside me and moved to the next row. I guessed second honeymoons didn’t hold much sway any more. I guessed most people had their second honeymoon with a second husband and that made it more exciting. More exciting than having a honeymoon without any husband at all, anyway.

  It was true, by the way, about Tom being late for our wedding. Traditionally it is the bride who keeps everyone waiting but I have been spot-on-time since the minute I was born (as my mother is fond of telling me and anyone else within a five-mile radius). My arrival into the world wrecked a perfectly good game of gin rummy, so she says, when everyone knows first babies are supposed to be late. And Myrna Linkloft’s favourite sitting-room chair was ruined, I tell you, completely ruined. You’d be surprised how often this comes up in conversation, given the fact that the waters heralding my arrival ruined, I tell you, completely ruined Myrna Linkloft’s favourite sitting-room chair more than 30 years ago. And it’s not even as though my mother sits on the chair these days. Something about the jack of spades and a cardigan sleeve. Please, you don’t want to know the details.

  Anyway, Tom and I were high-school sweethearts. We’d actually known each other since kindergarten when I bashed him on the nose with a dump truck after he pulled my braid for trying to eat his pink and yellow Play-Doh cake. Not surprisingly, this took quite a lot of getting over but by 10th grade we were dating and, I guess, in love. We were married on October 21, 1991; not just because we were crazy about each other but because my mother had been wearing black and spitting tacks ever since we’d moved in together three years earlier.

  By the time we got married I was a fledgling freelance newspaper reporter while Tom was working just off Bleecker Street in the West Village at Il Secondo, the Italian restaurant where he had washed dishes, bussed plates, peeled carrots, chopped onions, handmade pasta, plucked chickens and cured hares before finally becoming a sous chef (if that’s what it’s called when there are only two of you and the other one’s the boss). Reaching these dizzying heights had taken eight years and cemented Tom’s place in the bosom of the Marzano family who owned the joint. This suited Tom down to the ground because he never much cared for his own family. Despite being pale of skin, ruddy of cheeks and in many ways as Irish as Paddy Delaney’s goat he wanted, more than anything, to be Italian. At first, I found this cute. Who among us didn’t at some stage want to escape the bondage of our familial ties? Didn’t pray to God that they were adopted? Didn’t beg to be kidnapped by aliens? But while most of us moved on and grouchily accepted our families for the fatheads and dimwits they are, Tom never could and as he grew older he got more and more Italian.

  Now, this is not a very nice thing to do but I am going to break a big confidence here. I swore I would never tell anyone but I guess I’ve changed my mind: Tom is a natural brown mouse. Yes, that thatch of jet-black hair of which he has long been so overtly proud actually comes courtesy of a little plastic bottle from the drugstore. He has been seeking refuge in the dye bottle since he was 19 — he wouldn’t recognise himself au naturel any more. Nobody would. His hair suited his skin a darker colour, he told me. And in the poor lighting of Il Secondo that jet hair and those ice blue eyes did take on a Mediterranean sort of a hue, not hugely unlike that of portly Pippo, Il Secondo’s owner, who treated Tom like the son he so longed to be.

  It was no surprise to find, then, that Pippo would be our best man and the wedding reception would be at Il Secondo. The only surprise was that when it came time to take our vows at Our Lady of Perpetual Suffering, my husband-to-be was reported missing in action, last seen at the restaurant arguing with the poor sap who’d delivered a bunch of slightly wilted zucchini blossoms flown up from Florida. I loved that he cared so much about the smallest detail of the tiniest mouthful of the first meal we would be served as husband and wife. But I hated that he was more concerned about that than anything else, including actually turning up for the wedding ceremony.

  ‘What have you done to him?’ my mother (the other Lady of Perpetual Suffering) hissed at me through the window of my cousin Kevin’s limousine as we pulled up outside the church for the fifth time in a row. She’d never really liked Tom: she thought being a chef was on par with being a janitor — it all went down the same drain, according to her — but she still liked him more than me. Or so it seemed.

  ‘You just had to go and ruin my special day, didn’t you? Of all days. A Wednesday! Who gets married on a Wednesday?’ She looked at me accusingly through the open limo window and dabbed dramatically at her eyes with a silk handkerchief that exactly matched her canary-yellow suit. She’d bought it five years before, convinced we were going to marry then, and it had dated pretty badly. It had a peplum jacket and matching frilled skirt and made her look like an angry chick. She has real skinny little legs and was wearing a hat with a yellow feather plus her eyes were pink with rage or embarrassment or whatever it is an extremely hard-to-please woman feels when her only daughter seems to be getting dumped on her wedding day.

  ‘Typical, Mary-Constance. Typical! But why should I be surprised? My own daughter ruining everything for me? It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. Hah!’ She allowed a small hiccup of grief. ‘If only.’ She stepped back from the limo, slapped her hands on her little yellow thighs and looked around as if there might be a better daughter planning a weekend wedding standing behind her. There wasn’t but there was the next best thing: an audience. A scraggly group of people I didn’t even recognise was soon sucked into her vortex of disappointment and began lavishing her with sympathetic looks and words of encouragement. If I wasn’t mistaken, one of them, a dowdily dressed middle-aged woman, actually curled her lip at me — the bride — and at this, Mom put one hand over her eyes and flapped her silk handkerchief in my direction as if to say, ‘Get rid of her. Take her away.’

  ‘Once more around the block, Kevin,’ my best friend Fleur instructed, leaning across me to close the window, and we lurched off in a cloud of exhaust.

  ‘Her special day?’ I was stunned, tears pricking my eyes, threatening the painstaking make-up job Fleur had spent one hour and half a bottle of champagne applying. ‘What about my special day? My boyfriend hasn’t shown up for our wedding and I’m ruining everything? Where does she get this stuff?’

  No matter what the crisis (real or imagined), my mother seemed to have a knack for finding a way to blame me. When the kitchen in the apartment three doors down from us caught fire when I was in seventh grade, for example, it was my fault because I had given Mindy Brokawski, who lived there, my favourite recipe for butter cookies. The poor inexperienced girl had tried to bake them unsupervised, in so doing, according to my mom, burning her kitchen and almost the apartment, the entire building, the rest of the block, the Upper East Side, the whole of Manhattan to a crisp.

  Everybody else seemed to accept the Fire Department theory that the extractor fan was faulty, but not Mom. If I had to apologise to Mrs Brokawski once, I had to do it a thousand times. After a while
, she started avoiding me in the elevator and the hallway and eventually, in fact not that long after the fire, they moved to Jersey. In the end, it may have been me who drove them away but in the beginning the disaster could not truthfully be pinned on me despite my mom’s insistence otherwise.

  And that’s just a mild example. It all went downhill from there, which you will understand later on when I tell you about the kidney. But getting back to my wedding day: I twisted around as we drove away to see my mother through the rear window of the limousine, accepting soothing pats from her gang of sympathetic admirers, and I marvelled at my satin-gloved hands, which remained clenched and still in my lap when they should rightfully have been tight and getting tighter around her throat.

  ‘You think someone might have told her yellow is not her colour,’ Fleur said helpfully. ‘He’ll show up, Connie, don’t let her get to you.’ But it was too late. Perhaps I had done something to Tom. Perhaps I had ruined everything.

  ‘He has been eyeing up that pert little Angelina, you know, the new waitress,’ I said, fear clutching at my heart, which was already under quite a bit of pressure thanks to the restrictive corset of my powder-puff dress. Tom was late for everything so it hadn’t really occurred to me up until that point that he might actually be declining his invitation to our own wedding. ‘And I did yell at him for asking Pippo’s next-door neighbour’s next-door neighbours. Jesus, Fleur, you don’t think he is actually jilting me, do you?’

  Fleur tossed her expertly styled honey-blonde-highlighted hair over her shoulder and laughed. ‘Connie,’ she said, ‘if there is one thing in this world of which I am absolutely sure it is that Tom Farrell loves you and only you with all his heart and soul. He will be there at that altar to have and to hold you from this day forward till death do you part and blah blah blah so please stop worrying. And don’t cry, I got those eyelashes cheap. They’re past their use-by date.’

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