Rigatoni Alla Vodka for the Mean Reds

There is something about a slow madness that seems normal.  It doesn’t descend upon you so much as it sneaks softly, quietly into the recesses of your mind.  And because it’s gradual you don’t notice it.  You don’t see it coming like a freight train until it arrives.  Then smack on the tracks there you are.

That’s how I’ve felt the past couple months.  Like a sane person on the verge of insanity.  Acutely aware that something is not right but not knowing what it is or how to change it.

All my life, I have somatized my stress.  When I was 7 and my mother and I moved from Honolulu to Los Angeles, I suffered from stomachaches and became a blinker.  For those of you who don’t know, having a nervous tic in third grade does not help a child make friends.  Then when I was 17 and applying to college and a guest speaker on Warren Olney’s Which Way L.A. and about to take my SATs, I ground my teeth so badly I dislocated my jaw.  I have the embarrassing senior portrait to prove it.  Bless whoever it is at Marlborough School that granted me another.  It’s the portrait my parents kept.  Sometime last year I started blinking again.  The reason I noticed was because my toddler started doing it.  It took me less than a second to realize she was copying me.  Soon after, my body felt like it was falling apart.

Since summer I’ve suffered from phantom pains, insomnia, exhaustion, recurring lumps in my lymph nodes, decreased lung capacity, etcetera and so on.  Per my doctor’s orders I had a massive blood panel done.  Everything came back normal though my problems persisted.  Then after my daughter’s birthday party in December, I came down with a case of bronchitis that lingered.  Several weeks and some antibiotics later, I still feel weary.  But I’ve decided, unlike my doctor who is looking for patterns to detect a larger systemic fail and a potential diagnosis for some auto-immune disease, that I have just been suffering from low morale.

Don’t get me wrong.  My little family is amazing but being a full-time-stay-at-home-mom is exhausting.  Being so far from family and friends is sad.  Especially during the holidays.  And not working in any significant capacity for several years has made me feel useless.

Recently, I got news about being runner up in the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing and I cried.  I didn’t even win, but out of happiness for just being recognized, I out and out bawled.  For the first time since being in London I felt multi-dimensional.  I felt like I was more than just my husband’s wife or my daughter’s mother.  Two roles I love, but still, a woman needs more.  Or at least this one does.

For the past four years I can’t tell you how many people have asked me what I do and when I tell them that at present I don’t, they have immediately dismissed me as not being important enough to talk to anymore.  What’s worse are the people who know I used to act and treat me like I’m stupid because well all actors are, right?  Once after meeting me, a woman described me to someone else as “Extremely well groomed and behaved,” like I was a Pomeranian show dog or something.  It hurt my heart.

Anyway, I’ve had enough.  Of grinding my teeth, of feeling ill, of feeling like I only live to serve a two year old, order groceries, or make things beautiful for the holidays.  I’m also recovering from my fear of not being able to ever be seen as anything other than a housewife.  When I left Los Angeles for London, I had no idea that a hiatus from my career and starting a family would later make me feel so pigeonholed.  It has.  It does.  Though one of the most heartening things for me is knowing my husband doesn’t see me that way and that I have his support to go be more.

I don’t make resolutions but I do make lists.  My docket sheet this year includes finding  theatrical representation in London.  I’ve grown up a bit and want to try my hand, as an adult and not a kid which is how I used to be cast.  I want to finish the script I’ve been writing.  I want to start a novel with the help of an encouraging agent who just before Christmas, like a deus ex machina, approached me out of the blue because she thinks I can do so.  I want to keep cooking.  Mostly I want to be a better version of myself.  For Henry.  For Helena.  For me.

So here it is.  In the great tradition of women who yearn for change, I have cut my hair.  As nothing says to the world, “I’m different than I was before!” like shearing seven inches from your locks.  I also have a mouth guard to keep my teeth in tact while I sleep at night.  I have enrolled into a yoga course to remember how to breathe and I have stocked my kitchen full of anti-oxidants and amino acids.  This isn’t the end of Chagrinnamon Toast.  Far from it.  However, it is the first of what is going to be more and more sporadic posts.  I thank everyone who reads and don’t blame the people who take me off their rota.  That said, I’ve got stuff to do.  But first here’s a recipe.  And a picture of my haircut, of course.


Rigatoni Alla Vodka for the Mean Reds:

In Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Holly Golightly describes the mean reds as the anxiety she feels.  “A feeling of being afraid yet not knowing what you’re afraid of.”

Just like using fire to fight fire, the red pepper flakes in this recipe cure any case of my mean reds.  The cream helps soothe while the vodka acts as the sweet emulsifier.  The flat leaf parsley provides a freshness that reminds me of spring and a hope that springs eternal.  It’s an optimistic flavor note that any heavy dish like this deserves.


500g bag of rigatoni (De Cecco is one of my favorites)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

4 shallots chopped

3 smashed and chopped garlic cloves

2 cans of crushed tomatoes, each can 400g

1/4 heavy cream or double cream

1/4 vodka

grated parmesan

fresh flat leaf parsley

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes




Start by boiling a large pot of water for the pasta.  Add a teaspoon of sea salt.  Cook noodles until al dente as directed on the packaging.

In the meantime, melt the butter with the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Sauté the shallots over medium-low until caramelized.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook another 30 seconds or so before adding the tomatoes.  Cook for about ten minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken.  Once this happens, remove the pan from heat.  Stir in cream, vodka, and seasonings.

Pour the drained pasta back into the large pot in which it was boiled.  Pour the vodka sauce over the noodles.  Serve with fresh parsley and parmesan.

vodka sauce


20 thoughts on “Rigatoni Alla Vodka for the Mean Reds

  1. When I saw you in the Reader my first thought was: yay, you’re back. Then I read your post and I feel a lot of things but mainly I think you are very brave for being so open. Getting an agent is major – so give yourself major kudos and I’ve said it before, I’d love to have a whole book of your writing to read, so I can’t wait till you finish and publish your novel. And eff the people who are dismissive. Rooting for you!

  2. Hey Misti! I’m so sorry things have been shitty. I can really relate to a surprising amount of what I think you’re feeling. We should grab a drink! And I’m definitely going to try this recipe. Takes me back to L.A. Trattoria in West L.A. xx

    • Hey Sarah! Thanks for the comment. I’m really overwhelmed and touched by the number of female friends, both past and present, who have come out and said they feel or have felt similarly. I think being an ex-pat is hard and I think it can be particularly hard when you’re a parent. Let’s do get that drink soon. It’d be nice to catch up. xo

  3.   Hi Misti,

    First, I am sorry to hear that you have variety health issues. Hope you feel a lot better. Reading what you went through made me think that I went similar variety health issues since I was a little girl.  For decades, all the blood tests were negative.  Until 10 years ago, had ttests for food intolerance (my first time), turned out positives.  Was diagnosed celiac/gluten sensitivity, intolerance to fructose & sorbitol and few others). Celiac disease is a autoimmune disorder, it may initially present as a neurological disorder. Once on Gluten free diet and low FODMAP-Paleo diet, my health improved (fewer spasm in my leg and eyes, no more dry skin, sleep better, no more physical pain, breathing improving a lot, less fatigue, fewer frequent cold, wound heal quicker and so many more).

    Real food and clean air are very important.  I am not completely well yet due to undiagnosed for too long .. one day at a time is a sure way to recovery.

    I really enjoy reading your blogs, you write and express beautifully!  I also enjoy your recipes. Thanks for sharing.

    Take care.

    Tina From Canada

  4. I’m so happy to see you again, Princess 😀 Boy howdy do I hear you on the mom/housewife thing. Everything you say is true–a woman needs more. Your circumstances are different from mine (so sorry to hear about the physical part–yikes, take care of YOU), but I think most women can relate and have their own ambitions as well. I’ve seen it over and again here in the blogging community, so I hope you find some of that sense of purpose here.

    Shame on those folks who dismiss you because you acted. Horrible to make presumptions and assumptions based on pretty much nothing. Don’t bother with the shallow peeps–come hang out with us in the deep end 😉 And bravo on the steps forward in your career AND the writing honor.

    Finally, yay on Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Three cheers for Holly!!! Looking forward to seeing more of you. And I’ll always have something tasty for you over at food for fun. We seem to be on the same track as I’ve been eating my booze lately, too.

    • Hello, Liz! Thank you for your words. Being a mama, being a wife, and feeling useful in the world is tricky stuff. But after much time spent in bed, I’ve come to realize the changes I need. I’m pretty happy with the present plan of attack. Give me a few months. I’ll give you an update. And I’ll be sure to check out Food for Fun when I need a break.

  5. What a post!! Your writing definitely ain’t suffering, even if the rest of you is. I definitely understand how you feel – loneliness is so subtle, you don’t realise it’s there until it overwhelms you.

    Great writing, and do keep blogging!

  6. Tell it, sister. Watching everyone wave from the Merry-Go-Round is pretty hard for me. Not sure what the next act will be. Still figuring that out and enjoying this amazing time when they’re little. But, boy, it freaks me out when I really think about it. Will I go back? How will I do it? Will I do something else? How will I do that? Meanwhile, I cook and cook and cook. And miss my family that is so far away. Some symmetry to our lives, I’d say.

    • So much symmetry. And so many questions to which we don’t have the answers. I think it’s really hard when you’ve really wanted a family and then you get one so you make the according life adjustments and when there’s still a feeling that something is missing you go nuts wondering why. It’s hard. But knowing so many other strong intelligent women have been/are in the same boat makes me hopeful. Obviously, as does the love of my child. Thanks for reading and writing, Meriwether.

  7. Misti- PLEASE keep the posts coming!!! Even though I’m not a mom, I am a wife and graduate of slc like yourself- which I feel has left me in a ceaseless state of existential head scratching and pondering all things futile but strangely important to me.. I for one cant seem to decide what my life’s calling is and am constantly trying to tap into a career that excites and aliments my soul- definitely difficult to do. I hear you and relate completely to that nagging sense of listlessness. Your hair looks gorgeous and I know that you will find what it is that fulfills you career-wise. More more!

    • Recently I’ve felt more like a graduate of Sarah Lawrence from when it was a finishing school for ladies as opposed to a graduate of 2003 when it was co-ed and the artsiest of the liberal arts. And it’s crazy to me to learn that so many years after Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” so many educated women still suffer from that unnameable thing post-marriage, post-children. Thank you for your comment, Esra and there will certainly be more on Chagrinnamon Toast. Just not on any regular basis.

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