Thursday, May 21, 2009

Feeling Very Lucky

As I begin writing this post it occurs to me that a good chunk of my readers are not from California, matter of fact most of them are not, (have one of those counter dealies that tells you where people are reading…not who they are mind you, but where they are from) but I had such a, “Man we are so lucky back home moment” while visiting my son in Louisville that I just had to share the experience.

Monday afternoon we met Jeremy at work just in time to take him to lunch on his break, food is so important to us and I spend a bunch of time worrying that he isn’t eating well. He is a foodie kid, he grew up in the food and wine culture, everything from multi course meals in high end restaurants to hovering over a plate of sloppy tacos in some of the dodgiest places in Los Angeles. I worried about him moving to Kentucky, (not that there are not good places to eat…I’m not sure where they are and on his student budget he wasn’t likely going to be able to afford it anyway) but he is also a pretty solid cook so he has been able to survive. So I figured taking him to lunch to discuss what he would like us to make him and his roommates for dinner was a natural.

He and his buddies had just moved into a beautiful old Victorian home with a kitchen he could not stop bragging about, so we were planning on killing two birds…see the new pad and stuff some 20 year olds with homemade food. I knew we had sent Jeremy a bunch of cookware, oils and other assorted goodies from home so I was sure everything I would need as far as utensils would be there. (Turns out one of his other roommates is also into cooking so they had lots!) His request as far as what we should make…kind of surprising….baby back ribs, baked beans and butter cake, oddly southern considering he was living in Louisville! But we were down with giving him what he wanted, I now think he knew about the limitations as far as supplies go, and that may have influenced his decision.

We headed back to the hotel to make the shopping list and check the internet for the nearest market….now had we thought of it, we should have looked for a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s but we weren’t looking to go all fancy so we found a Kroger’s right down the street from the boy’s house. When we walked in we were greeted by a very nice, albeit somewhat loud greeter lady…she was just there to welcome us, a little startling to us coastal dwellers, but I will admit to finding it rather charming. We walked into the produce department, Nice and big” I thought at first but the more I looked around….damn, kinda awful. No real greens to speak of, lettuce looked sad, took me forever to find an onion that was not a sweet onion and I feared I was walking around in circles because I kept ending up in front of sweet potatoes and bananas…what the hell?! I wasn’t walking in circles as it turned out, while the space was large there in the produce department, it was just super lean on selection, those potatoes and bananas were placed in three different areas…”Well shit, I’m glad he didn’t ask for salad” I said and moved on to get the ribs.

So if I thought the produce department was odd, the meat department was worse! The selection of fresh meat was depressing, tons of prepackaged stuff, most of it frozen, (including the ribs) and the biggest selection of breaded meats I have ever seen…oh, one wicked cool thing was the assortment of pork goods! Like 20 different kinds of sausage, smoked pork parts things like that. I understood the frozen seafood but thought there would be more fresh meat…I was wrong. As we meandered around the market I scanned people’s carts, 95% of what was in those carts were prepackaged, frozen and boxed “food”….I was getting sadder by the second. The worst was yet to come….

They have a butter “situation” there at the Kroger’s in Louisville, (keep in mind I am not talking about all the stores in Louisville…they have a growing movement towards fresh and local…hasn’t reached the Kroger’s yet) there were 3 whole refrigerators, and I am not kidding here, 3 whole refrigerators full of margarine and butter spreads, many of which I thought were extinct, and only 2…you hearing me…2 different kinds of real butter, not 2 refrigerators, 2 kinds, Kroger’s brand and Land O Lakes, I grabbed the Land O Lakes and headed to the wine department…..yeah, they don’t sell wine in the Kroger’s…dammit.

We ended up having to go three places to get the stuff we needed for what was a pretty basic, (by our standards) meal. Found a Liquor Warehouse where we were able to find some white wine…had to really look though as the place was full of white wines from like 2002, not even for cooking am I going to use a Pinot Grigio from 2002, and we found a butcher and produce market for the ribs. The produce part of the market…still horrid but the meats were beautiful and wicked affordable! The best part, the service and this is where living in a smaller town really wins….the butcher that took our order, wrapped it up, walked it to the tiny counter, where the checkout lady called us hon and sweetie, he bagged our ribs and offered to take it to the car for us…huh?! That would NEVER happen here. Nor would the exchange we witnessed, a customer, (BIG dude) walks in with what looks like a 5 gallon paint jug, (turns out it was an emptied lard tub) with “SOUP” sprawled across the side, he hands it over to the butcher and asks for 3 gallons of chili…they poured 3 gallons of chili in his tub and charged him 20 bucks…awesome!! Made a mental note to tell the boys to get themselves a refillable tub and headed over to make dinner for the starving students.

Dinner went off without a hitch….aside from the fact that these 20 year olds didn’t have a wine opener, beer openers everywhere but not a corkscrew in sight. I laughed my ass off watching these kids try and get into the bottle of Honig Sauvignon Blanc I had purchased for myself to enjoy with dinner…the synthetic cork proved to be a problem, they took a knife to it, (that freaked me out) pounded a screw into it and tried pulling, kept stripping, ripping little bits of the “cork” out but it just wasn’t budging. After 30 minutes Jeremy headed back to the Liquor Warehouse and they now have a corkscrew! The Honig was beautiful, full of citrus and white flowers, quite full in that fruited way..not the oaky way…in the mouth and the finish was both refreshing and long, I’ll be drinking more of this wine for sure.

The next day we spent the afternoon on Bardstown Road, a slightly swankier part of town loaded with cool independent shops, restaurants and where we found a pretty cool wine store called Old Town. They had a much bigger selection of pretty interesting wines but still nowhere near the variety that we get back home, especially in the French wine department, not sure if it is because there is no demand, although reading other blogs that does not appear to be the case, or if it is just that no one is bringing those wines into the state…if it is the latter, there may be an opportunity there for someone, because there are some really amazing wines, at better prices by the way, from France that are not being represented there in Louisville….I’m sure it’s not just there either.

Spent our last night in the hotel, watching the Laker game with Jeremy, another thing that caught us off guard…Louisville closes damn early! Even the fast food joints closed at like 10:00 pm, so there was really no place to watch the game which started at 9:00….we found one sports bar place but they did not allow minors after 9:00 so we were kinda stuck for a spot for me and my Laker loving son to watch, so the hotel room it was. Jeremy remembered a fried chicken spot that was open until 4:00 am on the weekends so surly they would be open at 10:00 on a Tuesday….hot damn, they were!

We sat there perched on top of the bed, the three of us eating the best damn fried chicken I have ever eaten, deliciously smoky collards and creamy macaroni and cheese…eating right out of the containers with hotel towels across our laps, the whole time Jeremy and I yelling, and cheering… heart and tummy were bursting. I sipped on the 2008 Crios Torrentes that I picked up at Old Town Wine, it was nice, quite expressive aromatically but I felt it fell short as far as on the palate, too simple with a hint of marshmallow which can trigger my gag relex. I much prefer the 2008 Zolo Torrentes, we have at the shop, explosive aromatically, vibrating with white flowers and tropical fruit. The nose suggests that the wine might be sweet and upon first sip one might be led to believe that there is some sweetness but the finish is all nervy acidity and quite dry….a favorite sipper for those unbearably hot days.

I came home last evening, admittedly sad to be without Jeremy but so proud of the amazing young man he has become, really a remarkable person that I feel lucky to know. I was also humbled by just how lucky we are here in California, the food and wine that we have….even in the major supermarkets, is so fresh, diverse and affordable! How buying something as simple as lettuce can be an adventure as there are so many options, farmers markets year round and importers that bring us spectacular wines from all around the world….one afternoon shopping in a market outside of here went a long way in insuring that I do not take for granted just how lucky I am.

I sipped away on my glass of Cotes du Luberon Rose, letting it wash the airplane yuck from my throat, marveled at its pure balanced fruit, and the way my pleasure from drinking it lifted my heartbreak a bit…guess once in a while it is good to take a trip just to remind us how nice it is to be home.


Peter Liem said...

I often feel that Californians, as well as those people who live in other major West Coast cities, don't realize how lucky they are when it comes to the quality of their food. It's one of those things that you largely take for granted until you leave. Even when I lived in NYC, the overall quality of produce was shockingly far below what I had come to expect from growing up on the West Coast. (Butchers, yes. Produce, no.)

Your Louisville experience sounds similar to what you might find if you came here to Champagne. Most people (the French included) assume that living in the French countryside ensures a daily stream of magnificent gastronomic opportunities, surrounded by unbelievable local organic produce and blessed by the presence of dedicated artisans who all know their animals by name and lovingly hand-feed them the best of what the world has to offer. They're wrong. It sucks. Food-wise, I would be better off in Louisville.

Benito said...

I unfortunately didn't spend enough time in Louisville to find all of the good shops, but it would be easy for a visitor to come to Memphis and have a really negative food shopping experience. For instance, with the grocery chain Kroger, there's a lot of variation--one near me holds the widest and most impressive cheese selection in town, and there's another one that has a huge Kosher inventory year round, including meats and poultry. But others are just sad and depressing.

When I go shopping for a dinner party, it generally involves visiting at least five different stores. Fresh Market and Whole Foods have similar, though not overlapping products, and some of the wild Asian/Latino markets have rare ingredients and crazy stuff you just can't find elsewhere. But I only know this after 32 years of living in this town.

Out in Sonoma, I walked into a random Safeway and almost cried at the selection of wines, meats, seafood, and quality produce all under one roof.

Samantha Dugan said...

You have just dashed my dreams, those dreams of someday moving to France and having everything wonderful, fresh, and perfectly delicious at my fingertips! Way to bring me back down dude....(snicker) I have been in small towns in France and know exactly what you are speaking about.

You have no idea how many times I read one of your posts, (I am a loyal reader ya know) and wish I could transport you here, all our fresh veggies, ethnic markets and amazing wines to pair them with. Sadly my super transportation powers are not so much happening, so for now I will just have to wish.

Thanks guys for letting me know I was not just high and we have it pretty good over here/

Benito said...

They say taste memory is important in this realm of food and wine writing, and while I have no independent assessment of my skills in this area, I can remember the exact moment I tasted fresh squeezed California orange juice for the first time. It was the summer of 1989 and, having been raised on Florida OJ my entire life, I really wasn't aware that there could be regional differences in orange flavor and quality.

Nancy Deprez said...

Wow, what Peter above wrote in his second paragraph totally reminded me of that time that Kermit Lynch wrote in his newsletter that food in France sucks!!!!!!!!

Arg! Say it isn't so!

Nancy Deprez said...

I think people prefer to hold the dream that France has the best and most artisanal food in the world.