What You Don’t Have
It’s Tuesday night and I’ve given up wrestling with words for the day. I’m tired and hungry. I toy with the idea of picking something up from a local restaurant but that costs money. So I decide to cook something for myself.
Before indulging in any culinary endeavourers, however I decide to take Buster for his evening constitutional around the block. As I stamp my feet and shiver in the cold evening air I tell myself for the thousandth time that this is when owning a dog, even a part time one, sucks. But as I watch Buster pee on my neighbor’s browning lawn I feel sorry for him too. Doing your business in public with the wind chill hovering around zero is no picnic either. Fresh from the groomer Buster’s normally insulative coat’s been shorn and he’s shivering mightily. Luckily for both of us it’s a short walk.
When I get back inside my house I take stock of my larder. Because I haven’t been food shopping in weeks it’s in a sorry state. I have half an onion, a garlic bulb of dubious quality, a can of chopped clams, some chicken broth and half a box of linguini. It’s enough.
I put a pot of water to boil, salt it and mix myself a vodka and tonic. As I wait for the water to bubble I take my drink into the living room and watch CNN. After I learn everything I want to know about terrorists with explosive underwear I check on the water. It’s at a rolling boil.
My drink’s finished so I fix myself another one. Then I chop up the onion and clove of garlic and put a wok on high heat. I drop a few finger drops of water into the wok and when they hiss and skitter across the hot metal I know it’s ready for a generous shot of olive oil. I toss in the onions and as they soften I throw in some dried red pepper, the garlic and push everything around with a wooden spoon. Then I dump in a half a can of chicken broth. White wine would be better for my purposes but I don’t have any. Improvise and adapt.
When the chicken broth’s reduced to about half I drop the linguine into the boiling water. Then I work open the can of chopped clams and squeeze the liquid into the wok. As the clam juice bubbles I stir it slowly. Sauces are basically a reduction of whatever liquid you decide to heat. You can cook down champagne, beer – even Gatorade if you want to. After the clam broth boils for a bit I toss in the chopped clams. Littlenecks would have been nice. Manila clam would have been even better. But I have what I have to work with.
Enticed by the aromas coming from the pan Buster walks into the kitchen. As he looks at me panting, I smile. I once read cooking is something you do for your family. But when you’re alone you sometimes have to treat yourself like family. And now that my apartment’s redolent with the smell of food it feels more like a home than a box where I hang my hat.
When the linguini is close to al dente I drain it, toss it into the wok and let it finish cooking in the clam sauce. After a minute I toss in some dried parsley, black pepper, give it one more stir and empty the contents of the wok into bowl. Then I sprinkle it with the last of my Parmesan cheese. I know that’s a no-no with seafood but I like it that way. Then I freshen my drink and take my poor man’s linguine white clam into the living room. A sommelier would be aghast at my beverage pairing. But after two drinks vodka goes with just about everything.
I flip the T.V. back on in time to catch the start of NCIS LA. Buster whinnies so I give him a few stands of pasta. He’ll be okay with the spice. By the time the third set of commercials rolls around I’ve finished my dinner and my drink. Feeling no pain I lie back on the couch and watch as fearless and extremely good looking federal agents foil yet another nefarious plot to rend American asunder. I should be watching Charlie Rose or something more highbrow. But after sitting in front of a computer screen all day simple eye candy is all I can process.
Buster crawls next to me and falls asleep. By ten o’clock my fictional agents have solved the nation’s security woes in less than fifty minutes – far from the reality of underwear bombers and air marshals banging on bathroom doors while people are trying to take a crap at 30,000 feet. I’d love to see an episode about that.
Outside the cold wind moans and the windows rattle. I’m grateful I’m in a warm house with a warm dog and have hot food in my belly. “You don’t know how lucky you have it Buster,” I say. He doesn’t respond. He’s beyond caring. I pull a blanket over the both of us and put a pillow under my head. I turn CNN back on to try and keep updated about the world but soon I’m fast asleep too.
When I wake up it’s two in the morning. My apartment’s cold. I pick up my dog, go into my bedroom and burrow under the covers. For a brief moment I feel a stab of anxiety that my only sleeping companion’s a dog. But then it passes. What did the song say? What you don’t have you don’t need it now? I didn’t need Manila clams and white wine to make myself a nice dinner. Buster emits a soft sigh. As I watch the tree branches dance outside my bedroom window I stroke his fur until he goes back to sleep.
The dishes can wait until tomorrow.