Food, a love story
This one is for all the immigrants, wherever you are, or are trying to be. New York City, I love and miss you
It’s safe to say, girls, that you are growing up in “interesting times”. I hesitate to swear in these pages, because I really want you to read them when you are ready, without thinking that Mum is just a sweary person who shouts at Twitter. I mean, I can be that, but it’s not just who I am. Honest.
This week saw the anniversary of September 11, 2001, a day I remember very well, because I was there. Not in either tower, but in New York, at home in Queens in my jammies, sipping coffee.
Auntie Fran, who was a journalist at the time, called me from the Daily Record newsroom in Glasgow to find out what the hell was happening in Lower Manhattan. As we spoke, we watched the second plane hit. At that point, I think we both figured out what was going on downtown.
That’s the moment the world you’re living in was created. Anti-immigration feeling, and those who espouse its rhetoric, has ramped up steadily since then, leading to the hysterical, febrile atmosphere that has brought us Brexit and the current president of the United States. I refuse to sully these pages by saying his name.
You see, I was an immigrant then. I’m proud to say that you and your sister come from a long line of them, from Ireland to Scotland, Portugal to America, and sometimes a journey back. We are all from somewhere, and the prevailing atmosphere of bigotry, and insular, right-wing, cruel policies and actions, fills me with despair. And anger and dread and I rage at the stupidity of it all.
Not only was I an immigrant, but I worked alongside others, from every country in the world, it seemed. Each and every one of them enriched my life experience in some way, from laughter shared to teaching me swear words from their language (I remain a connoisseur of swear words from languages I otherwise do not speak.)
We would share stories of how we ended up in New York, what our plans for the future were and how we planned to get there. I urge you both to travel, far and wide, and just talk to people. Talk to everyone you meet, you will learn a lot about them and yourself.
My first job in New York was in a steakhouse on 10th Avenue. I worked crazy hours, working in the restaurant and doing weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs in the function rooms. I had a group of regulars, NY businessmen*, who requested that myself and an Irish girl be their permanent servers. They tipped like crazy, loved our sass and cheek and ran us ragged from lunch until we chucked them out when dinner service started.
We couldn’t have done all that, made the money we did, without the support of the guys in the kitchen. The busboys, the porters, the dishwashers – they kept us supported with the tools we needed to do our jobs. They were the hardest -working people I ever met.
Wilfredo was the boss of them, 5ft 4in if he was lucky and just as wide. The man was an ox. His wife, Ana, would come in to help at times, and boy, that woman could cook. Moles, salsas, chicken stews, grilled meats, oh my. She spoke little English, I little Spanish (swear words aside), but we mimed and guessed, and she taught me some tricks.
Her recipe for salsa is a simple as it is genius. This is the salsa you make when you don’t have sun-ripened, juicy Mexican tomatoes, the salsa you make from your kitchen cupboards. It’s delicious and way better than store-bought ones – just don’t bother with those.
I think of them now, those hard-working people, their kids, their dreamers. I can’t help but compare them to the entitled, lazy, silver-spooners who inhabit the White House at the moment.
They may identify as New Yorkers, but they in no way embody and exhibit even half the spirit of the New Yorkers I knew, some of them whose lives they seek to ruin.
I don’t want their recipes for anything.
*Those guys were eventually indicted on various fraud charges. It turns out the FBI had been watching them every Thursday from across the street for years. Their final lunch before turning themselves in for sentencing was epic.
Ana’s basic salsa
1 tin of tomatoes
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 or 2 red chillies, chopped
1 small red onion, quartered
Juice of one lime
A bunch of fresh, chopped coriander
Pinch of sea salt
Dash of hot sauce (optional)
Prep your ingredients and whizz them together in a blender or food processor. Keep it a little rough and chunky, you’re not making salsa soup. Check your seasonings, adjust to taste. Slather on fish, chicken or beef. Grab the tortilla chips and dip. Make nachos. Heck, have a bath in it if you want.
1 or 2 red chillies, finely diced
1 large tomato, deseeded and finely diced
Half a red onion, finely diced
Juice of one lime
A pinch of sea salt
Chopped fresh coriander, save a little to garnish
Dash of hot sauce (optional)
Mash the avocados with a fork, keep it rough. Add all of the other ingredients and fold together, delicately. Grab the tortilla chips, there’s a party over here.