Last week marked the fifth anniversary of my father’s death. Part of me can’t believe it’s been five years; the other part of me can’t believe it’s only been five years: It feels like yesterday, and an eternity ago. When my phone rings on Friday afternoons, I still half-expect him to be on the other end of the line, wishing me a happy Friday — as he did every week, pretty much, from when I left for college until he went into the hospital that final time. When I hung pictures in my apartment a few days ago, I heard his voice telling me to measure twice and hammer once; when I found a note on the back of one of those prints, in his inimitable handwriting, with birthday greetings for a year with “a pure silver lining,” I cried as if I’d lost him all over again. The enormous, overwhelming unfairness of it still just floors me.
I miss him, every day. Not as brutally as I did those first couple of years, and for that I’m grateful, but the ache is constant. I’m usually alone on his yahrzeit — previously, I’ve marked the occasion with too many martinis and/or Manhattans — but this year, my mother and I spent the weekend together at the beach. I hope it’ll be a new tradition.
In keeping with the location and in homage to his preferred style of dining, we kept things informal. Earlier in the week, we’d decided on pasta with clams and basil; Mom brought the few groceries we’d need from home, so we just had to make a quick trip to the fish market on Saturday afternoon for the shellfish.
We couldn’t resist amending the recipe to include scallops as well as clams, and Mom forgot to pack the (optional) fennel seed and (requisite) chile flakes, so we wound up with a slightly different dish than the author intended. Still, though, it was satisfying in its simplicity: a couple of pounds of clams, steamed in a bath of white wine, garlic, and olive oil and poured over a pile of pasta, with a puree of basil, parsley, garlic, and olive oil (pesto would work almost as well) swirled in at the end. Finished with a hefty squeeze or two of lemon and topped with a trio of sauteed scallops, this was the ideal beach meal — and one, I think, my father would’ve enjoyed.
This was his favorite childhood picture of himself; it epitomized his love of the water, his ease on and around boats, his utter fearlessness. He didn’t believe in worrying, or in second-guessing; he believed that decisions should be made and courses of action implemented accordingly, without indulging in what-ifs. I didn’t inherit that sense of pragmatism, obviously, but I try to channel it when I’m at my weakest.
He believed in the power of positive thinking, but he also believed in letting you know when he was angry and just how angry he was — that’s one trait I did inherit. (He claimed to have “mellowed” in his later years, but he still had the worst temper of any human being I’ve encountered to date.) Most important, though, he believed that time is best spent with the people who care about you and make you happy, and he believed in showing those people exactly how much they were loved in return, that life is too short for anything else.
Family time is harder now than it was before — his absence is more noticeable, the phantom-limb pain more obvious — but it’s also more valuable, and more comforting. On that, my dad was right: Life is too short for anything else.
Clam Pasta with Basil and Hot Pepper
By David Tanis, from the New York Times
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total Time: About 30 minutes
For the Basil Puree:
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup Italian parsley leaves
3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
For the Pasta:
1 pound bucatini, spaghetti or linguine
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seed, optional
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino (hot red-pepper flakes)
4 pounds small clams, such as little neck or Manila, rinsed of sand
1/2 cup dry white wine
Basil leaves, for garnish
- 1. Make the purée: Grind basil and parsley together in a food processor. (Alternatively, hand chop herbs or pound them in a mortar.) Add garlic paste and 1/4 cup olive oil and pulse to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- 2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rapid boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, taking care to keep pasta quite al dente. It’s best to use a timer, and drain pasta as soon as it’s done.
- 3. While pasta is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed wide pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic, fennel seed if using and pepperoncino, and let sizzle without browning, about 1 minute. Add clams, stirring to coat with a wooden spoon. Raise heat to high, add wine and put on the lid. Cook, covered, until all clams have opened, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off heat. (Discard any clams that fail to open.)
- 4. Add cooked pasta and basil purée to pot and toss gently to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with basil leaves and lemon wedges.