Living well


I was supposed to be in England for my birthday, but it was not to be.

Not much left of the Mercedes front end

Birthdays come and birthdays go and some are more significant than others. This one is nothing special, although next year is a big one. But I still like to celebrate, if modestly. I don’t expect presents. I already have everything I need, except the occasional bottle of good Scotch is always welcome. Last year, my two daughters clubbed together to buy me a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue, which is too expensive to drink! Although I did open it the other day when I survived a horrific car accident.*

That’s why I’m celebrating a little more than I should for a not quite the end of a decade occasion. In the spilt second before the crash, I thought my life was over. In the split second after the airbags, of which Mercedes Benz had provided many, including a knee bag, had deflated, I checked everything was still working and cried out very loudly: “I’m alive!” Then smoke started coming through the dash and I shouted to a kindly Good Samaritan who was peering in through the open passenger window: “Get me out of here!” And he did.

Patio celebration at Y Not Italian!

Another Good Samaritan revealed she was a nurse and checked me out for major trauma as I sat on the curb, back propped up against a light pole, and comforted me and pronounced me in fairly good shape, considering my car was trashed after the head on collision. Thank goodness for German engineering. Two wonderful lady paramedics concurred. A fire truck, three police cars and two ambulances later I was on my way to hospital and X-rays which pronounced me broken bone and stitches free and discharged me. My son, whom I was on my way to visit, kindly drove me home.

Last week I was supposed to have flown to England for a month, but the wretched airline cancelled our flights for the third time, so perhaps for the good, here I am.

Fast forward three weeks and I’m doing fine, so time to celebrate. My first plans were simply to invite some neighbours with whom we have been bubbling to a simple afternoon cake and champagne event.

Cake number one: Why not tiramisu?

Then (Hallelujah!), the Province announced restaurants would be opened for patio dining this past Friday. Moments later an email arrived from Peter Catarino, formerly of EVOO and Spuntini on Avenue Road, and now the owner of Y Not Italian! on the Harbord Street resto strip. By the time I phoned for a table, less than an hour later, all the spots had been taken for the whole weekend, except for a twosome at 5:30 pm on Friday. Of course, I took it. Peter welcomed us by name, looking a little harassed. I realized this was his first time serving customers actually sitting down and not take-out in about a million days. We were the first ones there and given our choice of seating. We picked a quiet corner where we could observe the action and two glasses of bubbly quickly arrived. Soon the place was packed and I was glad for Peter that his new spot seems to be an instant success.

We ate deliciously of insalata caprese, gazpacho, melanzane parmigiana and rigatoni con salsicca. Replete, I forced down a portion of outstanding tiramisu (with the obligatory birthday candle) and a chaser of flaming sambucca. A fine start to the patio season and a truly liberating relief from the pandemic. Check out my own versions of insalata caprese, gazpacho, melanzane di parmigiana and tiramisu.

Cake number three: Why not lemon meringue pie?

Saturday I was given free birthday coffees at our favourite Belle’s Bakery on Dupont. Isabelle and her husband Eduardo hail from Brazil and have an amazing selection of wonderful breads and baked goodies, including incredible Portuguese pastéis de nata. Knowing cake was coming later in the day, I passed on those delicious custard tarts and settled for a loaf of outstanding walnut sourdough bread.

Next, a cute little chocolate birthday cake, filled with chocolate cream and covered in chocolate icing appeared in mid-afternoon. Washed down with a glass of Veuve Cliqot Rosé, I was still buzzing at bedtime. We sat with our friendly neighbours on our shady patio surrounded with plants galore and revelled in the quiet of the evening. Cake number two was a huge success.  Zoom and video messages from absent offspring and grandchildren were the icing on the cake (Ed: intentional use of cliché).

Finally, on Sunday, number one daughter sent out an invitation for a swim in her lovely pool, a red meat BBQ and cake number three. A fine culmination to an exceptional weekend, when I felt truly lucky to be alive and able to see in another year.

*PS: The other driver walked away. The police decided it wasn’t my fault as I was innocently crossing the intersection on a green light and had the natural right of way. I don’t know if the other driver was charged, but he certainly cut in front of me and trashed his own classic BMW. He’s been punished enough.

Featured image: Cake Number Two was exceptionally chocolaty

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This is Nigel’s 309th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, well priced at $9.99 or £9.99.

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