It’s no secret that I love Alexander McCall Smith’s books. In addition to tickling my reading fancy, this one is a tactile delight. The picture above is a photograph viewed through a rectangular hole in the hard cover of the book which has been cut to frame it. There are four other photographs of unknown people that AMS selected to build his stories around. I’m also enamored of the concept of creating stories abut random strangers, having spent a considerable time in airports with my husband passing time by imagining biographies for the people we observe as we wait for our flight to be called. Then there was the joy of holding the book in my hands. At 5×7 inches, it’s a cozy fit. I love the photos, the feel of the book, and the messages contained within, all about love.
My favorite story, the second one, was called “Angels in Italy.” Without giving anything away, in this story, the two main characters recall a conversation they had when they were teenagers about the existence of angels prompted by a sketch of a dove Harry made. Many years later, enjoying a lunch in Italy, they are reminded of the conversation because the room where they’re dining had angels painted on the ceiling. I tried to find images of what Harry referred to as “Della Robbia angels,” but I could only find ones that were sculpted, not painted. Google only takes me so far!
Harry’s family summers for two months each year on a mountainous peninsula on the western edge of Scotland. The driveway to their home is lined with rhododendrons, which Phyllis, Harry’s mom thinks are beautiful, but Struan, his father, calls them “Nasty things…A haven for midges. They should have left them where they found them-in the Himalayas.” Who knew? Rhododendrons are Nepal’s national flower. Although, the ecologist for the National Trust for Scotland, James Fenton, wants the government to make getting rid of wild rhododendrons a top priority, making it the biggest ecological issue, in his opinion, in Scotland today, there is no denying their beauty. The wild rhododendron has adapted to the Scottish climate to the degree that it crowds out native trees and plants. So, beauty comes at a price.
Harry, a painter, spent some time in Florence where he had been invited to lecture. While there, a wealthy patron from Pittsburgh invited him to lunch at her villa in the hills of Fiesole outside Florence. It was to be a simple Tuscan lunch, of six courses! When I Googled “Tuscan lunch” a menu from Giada DiLaurentis came up including four courses: bruschetta, Bistecca Fiorentina (marinated, grilled steak) white beans, and chocolate cherry shortbread cookies. While the bruschetta was prepared in a way I’d like to try, (brush oil on one side of sliced rustic Tuscan bread and grill; brush with the cut side of a tomato sliced in half: salt and serve), I really like the bean and kale recipe, so thank you, Giada and The Food Network.
White Beans and Kale
2 C dried white beans, such as cannellini
1 sprig fresh sage
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 T plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small bunch Tuscan kale, chopped
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ C freshly grated Parmesan
In a medium Dutch oven, combine the white beans, sage, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 6 cups water (bottled preferred). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, partially covered, for 1 hour 20 minutes, stirring occasionally; the beans should be just tender all the way through.
Add the kale, salt and red pepper flakes to the beans and stir to combine. Cover the pan and simmer until the kale is wilted and tender, an additional 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil and the cheese to finish.