‘TUSSIN OF THE SEA
It seems like I’ve been sick for three months.
I’m not sure if it’s having a kid in daycare or the number of flights I’ve been taking or even the unusually high mold counts in the air after a wet, humid spring in Austin. Maybe I licked a petri dish by accident. Maybe I won some shitty contest where I got a lifetime supply of green crap to pour out of my face. Maybe there’s something in the water, like a bunch of snot– I’ve been hacking, snotting and wheezing like there is. Whatever it is, I am quite sure that it’s bullshit… maybe tuberculosis.
I’m usually not sick and I really hate being sick. I know that it’s not something that anybody particularly enjoys, but the feeling of things within my head and sinuses not working the way they should really pisses me off. It feels like a personal affront, like a conspiracy of viral intentions aimed at poor, pitiful me. Because of this, and unfortunately for my long suffering wife and coworkers, my colds always seem to be accompanied by a secondary infection of fuckface-itis. A week-long stint on the Ricola and decongestants diet turns me into a crabass. And now that I’ve been stricken for what must be ten months of hocking, snotting cholera, I’m feeling like just a plain low-down irascible bastard.
To put it into perspective, my daily conversations have been something like this:
“[HACK, COUGH, SNIFF, WHEEZE] Yeah? Well fuck you too, pal.”
“…so you don’t want the dressing on the side?”
“[PAUSE] Oh, right, no just right on there is fine… Sorry, I have a cold.”
It’s not that I haven’t done my part in trying to eradicate the walking pneumonia phlegm beast that has taken up residence in my nasal cavities. Daily immunity boosting vitamins, copious amounts of fluids, behind-the-counter meth-dealer-quality decongestants, different stints on various ineffectual antibiotics… none have made more than a passing dent in the Great Wall of Shit that has been pressing down on my head and ears for what I now believe to be a five year stint of the Spanish Flu.
In light of the current decade long, mucous assault against my head, it’s time to pull out the big guns.
I hold a lot of ardent and mostly unfounded beliefs in the curative powers of various food and drink. Irish whiskey (especially in a hot tottie) fixes nearly anything. Steaks and bacon relieve stress. You could probably just rub brodo or olive oil on something like tennis elbow and it would feel better. I’ve been tempted on more than one occasion to eat spoonfuls of Vick’s VapoRub. And for a lingering craptacular cold like this, there’s little better than seafood, Scoville units and garlic.
I make various iterations of spicy seafood pasta depending on what I have on hand and how poorly I’m feeling. It’s a tradition that started back when I worked at a very Neapolitan pizzeria and would cure hangovers with a cheeseless pizza, judiciously sauced with San Marzanos and dripping with chili flakes, garlic, olive oil and anchovies—The Number One with Fish. It would leave me feeling considerably better, if smelling considerably worse. I would sweat out the previous evenings excesses along with garlic and the oily essence of hairy little fishes while breaking my ass at working the ovens, waiting tables, and prepping antipasti coldside for the next several hours. Damn it was good.
At home I do a much more sedentary version of basically the same thing. Let me glug down an inexpensive but clean Southern Italian red, stuff myself on some briny little critters and mouth scorching spice, and then sit in the corner reeking of it and enjoying some good reruns. If Welcome Back Cotter is on the tube, I’ll be in better shape than anything a little penicillin can get me. At least I’ll feel better and be happier for a bit. And in the end, my happiness is all anybody really needs, right?
Usually I make some basic tomato sauce with quite a bit of extra garlic, oregano and a good handful of chili flakes, then cook several shrimp in it before tossing with capellini. This time I had some fresh cayenne peppers I just picked from my garden and the brininess of littleneck clams seemed like they may bring a medicinal quality all of their own. Of course very good-quality olive oil, oregano from my yard and garlic also played a roll. I felt less like a snot-filled asshole just cooking it.
It may not be the cure for the common cold, but it does a number on fuckface-itis.
Spaghetti with clams, hot pepper and garlic
The idea here is have a dish of pasta that is hot as a goddamn sonofabitch, garlicky as hung-over gypsy and as briny as you wish. If you want to get Davy Jone’s jockstrap with it, up the anchovies, or even add some botarga.
1lb clams, like littleneck
1lb good spaghetti
4 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 fresh cayenne peppers or other hot chili, sliced thin
1 anchovy fillet, chopped finely
A couple tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
Inexpensive white wine
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat a skillet with a good layer of olive oil over medium high heat. Put your spaghetti in the water. In the oil, cook ¾ of the peppers, the garlic, a good amount of black pepper, and the anchovy till they begin to brown. Add half the oregano, a good glug of white wine and a little salt. Bring the whole slurry to a boil, add your clams and cover, cooking for about 5 minutes. You should be able to hear the clams begin to open. When they start, turn off the heat but leave the lid on. Your spaghetti should be done shortly. Transfer it directly from the water to the skillet, add the rest of your hot peppers and oregano and cook the whole thing over high heat for about a minute. Turn off the heat, add more black pepper and olive oil. Eat. Sweat. Nap. And in the back of your mind, while belching small garlicky briny percolations into a burning mouth, think triumphantly “Fuck you, cold. I’ve got my clams.”