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.


Comments

What You Don’t Have — 43 Comments

  1. I’m just sitting here wondering if you met Mags (the gun blog) for coffee, not that it’s my business, but that was an interesting blog. I love the ‘hey, forgot your loyal fans about Merry Christmas’ too. Love the Internet! Happy New Year Steve. Rock on!

  2. Thanks for the recipe. I’m not the greatest cook, but this sounds simple and tasty.

    My cat sleeps beside me every night. She’s like an extra hot water bottle.

    Good in this freezing weather!

  3. Steve:

    I’m originally from Brooklyn N.Y. and worked in the restaurant business for many years to put myself through High School and college (NYU – B.A. Music) a great piece of paper that I can show my ten year old son what not to major in as that is where the phrase “starving artist” originated. Although, I have had some really good paydays playing in Central Park with my saxophone case open when my rent exceeded my tip money.

    However, I have done everything in the business from dishwasher, cook, bartender and waiting tables. I could share restaurant war stories with you all day!

    Anyway, just wanted to drop you a line to let you know that I picked up your book (Waiter Rant) and couldn’t put it down. It brought back so many, many fond and not so fond memories of working in the business and the people that I have met along the way.

    I really enjoyed the book and I seriously think that either a restaurant reality show or sitcom would be a huge success!

    Now that I have discovered your Blog, I will certainly check-in and see what’s going on.

    Again, I really enjoyed your book and thanks for the many laughs the book provided as well as the harsh realities of sometimes how ruthless the restaurant business can be, that not many people get the opportunity to observe.

    All the Best,
    Thomas -

  4. Allow me to point out, dearest, that the larder is bare, but you have vodka and tonic. This is just an observation, mind you, but I don’t want you going all Dylan Thomas on us.

    XO

    ~Amanda~

  5. That was lovely and I am so jealous of you with your warm puppy and hot pasta. I, too, love NCIS but I watch it with only a duvet and frozen dinner. How does a single girl get your life?

  6. The uses of not

    Thirty spokes
    meet in the hub.
    Where the wheel isn’t
    is where it’s useful

    Hollowed out,
    clay makes a pot.
    Where the pot’s not
    is where it’s useful.

    Cut doors and windows
    to make a room.
    Where the room isn’t,
    there’s room for you.

    So the profit in what is
    is in the use of what isn’t.

    -Lao Tzu

  7. @Amanda: That only demonstrates that he goes through his food a lot faster than through the vodka… I think that is definitely better than the other way around.

    >> But after two drinks vodka goes with just about everything. <<
    That would be an interesting experiment: Determining that goes-with-everything-threshold for various beverages. Does it exist for every drink? What does it tell us about the drink?

  8. Some of the best seafood dishes I ever had was at a small Mexican restaurant that specialized in Yucatan style food. And there was definitely cheese on some of the food.

  9. the older my dog gets, the more i value sharing the sorts of moments as what you describe sharing with buster. it’s definitely something to treasure, whatever else may be occurring (or not) in one’s personal life. enjoy the present, steve!

  10. those must be one of the days that allow u to think and reflect of life. melancholic.

    luckily my friend who is a chef cooked pasta carbonara, french onion soup and roasted chicken for me to feast!

  11. I love this! This has to be one of my favourite posts of yours, it has left me with a nice feeling of warm contentment. And hunger. :)

  12. Thanks Waiter, you inspired my to get off my butt and inspect the contents of my cupboards. Stay warm and good luck with the writing.

  13. Why is parmesan a no-no with seafood? I can’t count the number of times I’ve dumped a pile of parmesan on my seafood marinara (I love parmesan, the more the merrier). I’ve never really stopped to think of what it would taste like without parmesan – I’ll try it next time.

    By the way, nice post. Introspective and moody. Don’t sigh too much over lack of a bed companion :) . One day you’ll find the one who’s perfect for you, and you’d have skipped over countless screwed-up relationships and furious breakups.

  14. sorry chicken stock and clams are you for real- do you have no taste buds- and the thought of cheese with seafood- disgisting

  15. My dog just turned 15 years old. She is the highlight of my life and every moment is now precious as I know our time together is limited. Cherish your time with Buster – it goes by quick. This was a great story.

  16. Hey Waiter,

    I loved this blog posting!

    I first learned of your blog and book in late December of 2008. I was meeting a blind date at the local bookstore and she mentioned being a fan of your blog. While the date wasn’t bad, the best part was definitely hearing about Waiter Rant ;)

    All the best!

  17. So you’re story is that you spent an evening at home, cooked some pasta, made yourself a few drinks, and fell asleep in front of the TV? Riveting stuff.

  18. first off. your ability to connect with the reader on a very personal level is uncanny. i just want to say that even in my immediate drunken state, your words have touched me. this is what writing is about. or…at least…what it should be. excuse my language, but fuck anyone who says otherwise. there is little more that could have entertained me more (at 5:30 in the morning) as i enjoy my instant ramen than your entry about your dog. your food. your bed. your life. thanks a lot and much respect.
    ~sean

  19. I hate to be a Debbie Downer here… it’s a nice post and I know that you love your dog, but why would you have him shaved down in the winter? You said it yourself: INSULATIVE COAT. I mean, January is the coldest month of the year… kind of a bad time to be “newly shorn”.

  20. “I once read cooking is something you do for your family. But when you’re alone you sometimes have to treat yourself like family.”

    Too true. My spouse just started a 4-to-5-days-a-week-away-from-home job, and we have a dog, so I have done basically what you just described within the past week.

    And I just finished a memorial video for a friend; and due to her widower’s choices of songs, got into a U2 Atchung Baby kick… how apropos.

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