I just ate a spinach and anchovy omelet for lunch. It is the first time my cat and I have the same breath.
Why would I do that? Because I had spinach and anchovies, and I hate wasting food. Food frugality is one of the gifts my mother gave me. No matter what you have leftover, you can make another meal out of it.
Mom had a cast-iron grinder that clamped to the countertop. Chunks of leftover meat go in one end, you turn a big crank, and they ooze out the other like a horror film Pla-Doh factory. It fascinated me. As Sunday's pot roast turned to Monday's roast beef sandwiches turned to unmanageable bits of leftovers, out came the grinder. Roast beef salad, voilá! We had a big family, and various pets came and went. Whenever one died I'd skip dinner for a day or two just to be safe.
There is no fun in grinding anchovies. They're slimy and mushy already, and they stink so bad that everything around them stinks too, like sardines, which my dad and I used to enjoy together. Mom would make us eat them on the back porch, lest a single drop of sardine juice fall and putrefy the whole house. Sardines: Patchouli of the Sea.
I had to buy a tin of anchovies along with a bunch of spinach for a Valentine's Day recipe, for my plan was to cook food I'd never dealt with before. A tin holds about eight little fish bits—a year's supply. The spinach, anchovies and various other savory weirdness were to be sautéed into a paste the color of baby poo, then sandwiched between layers of phyllo dough, which were then cut into the shape of a valentine. How adorable is that? At least that was the idea. Before I had finished even my first one, I had used up all my swear words.
Phyllo dough isn't really dough. It has the consistency and charm of peeling sunburned skin, flimsy and thin as air. You can't let it dry out or it'll crack, and you can't get it too moist or it'll turn to mush. I figured out the technique for making a nice one just as I made the last one.
Next came scallops. I still don't know what a scallop is, but I learned that "bay" scallops are small enough to fit up your nose, from where it looks like they came, and "sea" scallops are as big around as a severed arm, pale and translucent like a leftover prop from Jaws. I chose "bay." I was to sauté the scallops and lay them over a fennel compote. I didn't know what fennel was, so shopping for it took a while. And I had to look up "compote" in the dictionary, thinking it would be good to know what my endgame was. It's basically vegetable jelly.
As I'm cooking all this, looking down at my dusty, stained blue apron with its yellow Spam logo, I realize why everyone at the bar calls me Girlyman. But miraculously, the dinner came together wonderfully. My date brought over crème brûlé. I only knew Brulé from the summer arts festival—that band which performs authentic native-American karaoke. But in Foodland the word is kind of like flambé, which is French for "Dinner's on fire." Brûlé is a dessert which is finished by searing it with an intense, direct flame. After all the mushy French words, I was especially eager to whip out my blowtórch, the first item of the entire evening I understood. It lit with a satisfying paahhh!
I'm not the only Girlyman. It's also a band from New York City, three classically-trained multi-instrumentalists who all sing. They opened for the Indigo Girls for a year or so. Girlyman is among my most anticipated shows of the year. I beg, beg, beg you to go see them, just so I can wallow in your gratitude afterwards. Mick's is built just for great shows like this.
Get all the details here.
The omelet turned out pretty good. Does anybody have a good anchovy recipe? I still have two left to use up.