Saturday, June 4, 2011

Getting Stuck and Bread Crumb Pasta

I have been colossally stuck with writing, the deadly combination of feeling depressed and having very real, massive pressures on my time led to no writing, none, for nearly a month. It is a well worn story, the cumulative effect of not doing what you need to do and that compounding to make you feel worse and worse. Every day you don't go to the gym makes it easier to skip it the next day. I was moping and thinking about this and mentally kicking myself for not making the time, when Craig opened a package of rotten chicken. Finally, something more foul than my mood.
Craig went into an instantaneous brainstorm, what else to make? As I watched him I had a small, eventual epiphany on how having to get something done is often the only reason anything does get done. Opening a spoiled package of chicken at six p.m. on Saturday evening, two hungry kids licking at his ankles, zero takeout options, is dealt with immediately and creatively because it has to be. Kids need dinner, especially after the day they'd had: they had walked a full mile and a half hike on their own two feet. No strollers. No piggy backs or "uppy" carrying. They had done it, one foot in front of the other.
And, that morning at the market, Maryrose nicely but firmly nudged me for having slacked on writing the blog. Maryrose is someone I deeply admire. Her lamb, which I have written about frequently, and cheese, and sheepskins, are the fruits of very hard, intelligent work. And you should see her gorgeous biceps.
As I watched Craig whip up an anchovy and bread crumb pasta, I felt my mopey, myopic self loathing shift. I realized I had been focusing my admonishments on not writing anything to post, but my real problem was that I simply had not been writing. I had jumped ahead to feeling like a loser for not putting anything out there. But what had I given myself? What time had I given, what respect for my work had I given myself? The problem was not a gap in posting to the blog, the problem was the inattentiveness to myslef. It was like putting the kids to bed with no dinner. Sorry, the chicken was rotten, too bad, see you at breakfast! No, you have to give attention to what needs it. Even if the chicken is rotten you have to make dinner. Even if I don't have any ideas to post, I still have to write, because if I don't I am awful and cranky, like a toddler in need of dinner. Get it done because you have to. Get it done so your mood does not reek like rotten chicken. Get it done because someone actually wants to read it.
In fifteen minutes Craig had this meal ready. We sat around the table and slurped it up, greasy chins, our bodies slowly easing, nourished and loved.

Craig was buying pasta at Murray's, years ago now, when he ran into his friend Ignacio Mattos. They were talking about what they were up to, what they were cooking, new music they’d found, when Ignacio related his favorite fast pasta: pasta, bread crumbs, anchovies and chili flakes. It has been a staple ever since. Especially in emergency moments such as this rotten chicken evening.

Even if you think you don't like anchovies, try this out. When used in cooking, and not eaten directly, say off a pizza, they become a wonderful salty essence. Not "fishy," just a really nice saltiness. Chances are if you were once revolted by an anchovy it was oil packed, packed in not so great quality oil. Anchovies packed in salt or high quality olive oil are distinctly better tasting, and have a better texture.

what you will need:
spagetti or fettuchine
anchovies to taste. i prefer salted. a small can of olive oil packed filets will work.
some garlic, minced
the green part of 4 or 5 scallions slivered or some chives (and their flowers) finely diced.
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
bread crumbs

heat a large pot of water.

in a large skillet splash some olive oil and over low heat soften the garlic. add a some black pepper to taste. add the anchovies and smash with a fork until they dissolve into the oil. red pepper is nice, if you prefer a bit more kick. toss in the scallions or chives and remove from heat.

when the water is boiling, cook your pasta of choice until barely al dente (it should have a bit of a snap when you bit into it) then, using tongs, put the pasta in the skillet with anchovy oil mixture.
put the skillet back on medium-high heat. add about a ladle of the hot pasta water. toss the pasta and the sauce until the liquid is about gone. remove from heat and add bread crumbs. mix and serve!

variations…try adding the white part of the scallions along with the garlic. parsley if you like at the end.

for the bread crumbs:
save all your bit and pieces of bread in a paper bag. when you need bread crumbs, grab a hunk of the dried bread and grate on a box grater into a large bowl. add salt and pepper to taste and put in a cast iron skillet on low heat. stir periodically with a wooden spoon so the crumbs don't burn. when they are nice and toasty put in a bowl until you need 'em.


  1. Hip hip hooray! Glad to read this, and to have the recipe. Marsh was going to make this for lunch today, but discovered we are out of anchovies, so instead he made cucumber salad, toasted cheese sandwiches, limeade.

  2. It's funny: one might think that reading a post about the struggle of writing (and food, yo) might make one less interested in writing.

    Turns out? Writers find inspiration in the craziest of places.

    Yum and love.