Thursday, September 29, 2011

Something About You & I

My days seem so long. Like just when I think I’m done, there is just one more, or one hundred more things that I have to deal with, pet, coax and coo at in order for the rest of my life to run smoothly enough for me to keep trudging through. While that may sound selfishly indulgent it is in fact the way things have been going and I don’t see any flickering light at the end of some goddamn tunnel, least not anytime soon.

The economy fucking blows. People are horrifically bummed and clutching each and every dollar as if their very life depends on it…might in fact be true but those of us on the retail end are feeling those white knuckles worse than ever before. I’ve smiled and done my best to charm the wayward consumer that comes in looking to, well to look and not buy, more times than I care to count and the driving past shells of recently “liquidated” independent stores and restaurants on my drive to work each day is simply a depressing reminder of how close we all are to boarding up and surrendering to the mass market of medium. Fuck….

Got home this evening and realized that I had left my notebook at work, the one containing all the tasting notes needed to get my already late write ups to Randy for The Wine Country newsletter. Not sure there is anyone I can coo to at this point, I’m late and he is waiting for whatever nubbins of articulation I have to help inspire sales and get people in the store. Simply cannot believe I would, once again, be this late and find myself at well past midnight trying to piece together notes coherent enough to trigger sales for our store. Once again all I can think to say, fuck….

Seeing as there was nothing I could do I opted to make a fiercely fresh tasting dinner, a soup loaded with vibrant veggies, some seared sausage, chewy pasta and buttery shards of shaved cheese. The list of men I crave pleasing is small, I can count them on one hand even and one I was clearly failing so the one that bumps around this dusty little cavernous joint I call home, well at least I might be able to please him. Sweated along with the onions, bits of garlic and found solace in the soulful growl of Rickie Lee Jones, “Chuck E’s in love” the simple base line and unstoppable snapping my soundtrack as I chopped and tossed goodies into my broth. 

Four bowls of soup later Call-o was scouring the dishes and I was locked deeply into my ipod, “So good, there’s something about this place” making me think of my store and how far behind I was in spilling my guts about all the thrilling stuff that keeps me showing up each day, aching to share them with others….all of if slamming against me causing me to feel intensely guilty. Next song up, “I’m thinking about a red wine buzz and taking it easy” the words lit up my ears and gave me that feeling that reminds me of thick meaty hands digging deeply into my tight, ready to be relieved shoulders.

“You say Baby, how’s your day?“
“I say crazy”
“But it’s all gonna be alright”
The lyrics setting the pace, pushing, prodding me to just let go and dip my soul in a bottle of wine that sings to me….

Let myself puddle and marinate in a bottle of Fabrice Gasnier les Graves Chinon. Let the gentle dried herbs, intensely aromatic flowers and suppleness spill over me, my tense shoulders and aching body. Each swallow ringing in my ears and each dribble of sumptuous liquid landing like sparks in the pit of my stomach…sending reminders to the rest of me.

I can play around with wines from elsewhere but my Loire reds, well there is just something about the two of us.

“So good, something about this place”……
Something about you and I…

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Remote Ate My Homework

So I am married to a computer Super Genius. A computer Super Genius that is never quite satisfied and thus my my home/television viewing/internet is always in some state of change or evolution, or as I like to say, "Just a little jacked up". I'm not a nagging or bickering wife, just don't really have the temperament or arrogance to assume my way, or the way I would like, is any better or more valid than his. That being said this evolving "super network" of ours has caused me a few, okay more than a few, huffy moments of, "Why can't this just work?"

So the latest installment of, "Dude. C'mon" was an upgrade, (I would be using quotes again but I know they drive Ron batshit) that freaked out our universal remote in such a way that after a couple of clicks on the up or down button it would leap through about fifteen channels at lightning speed. Super fun I assure you. I dealt with it by basically keeping my viewing to a handful of channels and spending far too much time on Facebook, my husband swearing that the next box delivered via UPS would fix it. Okay....

I watched yesterday afternoon as he buzzed around and plugged in another bunch of cords into another shiny box with another red light. He was sure this new gadget was going to solve our remote control issue. Well, he was right....sort of.

Bellied up to my beloved laptop last evening to try and salvage a very strange post I had written on Sunday. Kind of a stream of conscientiousness piece that read like I was suffering severe head trauma. Settled into my spot on the couch, poured myself a tall glass of wine, opened the Word document and began scanning the rather unruly piece. I wasn't really feeling it so I grabbed the "now fixed" remote in the hopes of finding something even more mindless than that goddamn piece. I'm flipping up and down, marveling in my husband's brilliance, that was until I glanced back at my open Word document and saw that it was jumping up and down with each click of the button. Fantastic. Hit the guide button only to have a Windows Media menu pop up on my laptop...

"Call-o!!" huffing moment for sure.
My husband lumbered from the bedroom, (poor fucker thought he was getting into bed early last night...ahem, No) could not stop laughing at the fact that my laptop had a matching infrared scanner dealie with our super improved remote control. Yeah, I thought it was a total hoot as well.....grrrrr. Long story short, after his big giggle and my fierce glare he picked up my laptop, flipped it over and for the second time in a month, it went to black screen....dead. Totally dead. 
Super Genius was unable to revive.....
My laptop passed away last evening and I have spent the better part of the morning waiting for installs, upgrades, (how a new laptop needs upgrades I have no idea....ask the genius that killed the last one. Okay, yeah I am still a little wounded) and trying to navigate a completely new workstation. 

So there you have it, the oldest excuse in the book but I swear it's the truth. My remote ate my homework.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Second Time Around

“Have you read this?” my mother in-law flashing a bright yellow paperback in my direction. I shook my head, told her that I had not “Oh. Well they just made a movie about it. Here read it, it’s cute” I tossed the book in my purse/backpack and there it sat, over 500 pages for about a week before I yanked the bloody thing out because it was making my backpack too heavy. I flipped it onto one of the overstuffed chairs in my living room where it landed with a deep thud, and where it sat for another two weeks.

I cracked it open one evening and stumbled through the first couple pages. A narrative written with the speech pattern and slang of an older, African American woman from the 1960s in the south. For some reason, on that night, I found it just too taxing to float through and put it down for another week or so. Woke up super early a couple of Sundays ago, the house so quiet, the world outside just beginning to percolate, the coffee pot grumbling its alert that the aromatic liquid that had been filling my nose and sparking my desire, was in fact ready for me now. Too peaceful for the television and with all my stacked copies of Saveur devoured I reached once again for the bright yellow paperback. 

On that morning the words and emotion, the textured voices and personalities so vivid I swore I could picture their faces, just leapt before the eyes that greedily gobbled them up. Three cups of coffee, two glasses of Lustau Fino Sherry, countless handfuls of almonds and five hours later I was still tucked into the corner of the sofa, half the book now flipped to the finished side and while excited about being taken out to a fancy dinner that evening, dreading having to put the book down and leave my new friends.

The novel was The Help, written by Kathryn Stockett. A brilliantly written story, full of pain, humor, uncomfortable truths and some sadness, all told through different voices and viewpoints. Truly astounding to me, the kind of talent it takes to pull that off so beautifully, flawlessly. I finished the book the following day and then came to find out that while now a bestseller and movie, the book had sixty rejections before it was published, sixty. I found that simply amazing and it gave me a punch of perspective as far as deciding or making proclamations about what is good and what isn’t.

My mother in-law thought it was “cute” which is fine. I on the other hand found it powerful, poignant, enraging at times and dripping with raw emotion. Maybe it was my connection to the black community, the complete removal of any kind of “us and them” feeling that I was raised with. Maybe it was from never knowing what having “help” was, or is, like. Dunno why we took such different feelings away from the stories, both positive but very different, the point is, there were at least sixty people, (likely far more than sixty) before us that thought the book wasn’t worth publishing.   For you score lovers out there that is less than fifty points or, a glass turned upside down…..sixty times! 

Now before anyone starts thinking I am going after the oft whined about 100 point scale and the reviewers that use them, let me assure you, I am not. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, that argument is absolutely fucking pointless. I see no reason to hash and rehash the damn thing. Hell, truth be told, I don’t even care enough to bother weighing in anymore. Reviewers use them, retailers reuse them, (and that is where you can find me getting riled up….lazy and often dishonest. Many retailers posting a score on a wine that once got a 93 or whatever…but not mentioning that the wine on the shelf is a new vintage. Or worse, posting scores from their in house reviewers as if it were from a publication. Creases the hell out of me that) and consumers find some kind of comfort in knowing that what they are grabbing was viewed favorably by somebody. I get it and honestly, I don’t think scores, with tasting notes, do any real harm…I don’t follow or use them, not because I am fighting against the evil machine of wine critic, but because wine, much like literature, food and music…hell, even sex, is so often situational to me. Just not the way my passion works. I don’t affix a grade, stars or points to my meals, books or lovers and wine, when it moves me, can and does feel just as sensual as someone’s hands moving slowly across my flesh, just as powerful as feeling someone’s heart as I read their story, just as thrilling as having a piece of music bend my body and flick away at my soul. Simply cannot begin to consider condensing all of that down to….a number? Nah, never going to be me.

Look, as the buyer for a few departments at The Wine Country I am, often daily, tasting and buying wines that I simply don’t care for. Just part of the gig, I’m not shopping for myself each time I sit across from a supplier and sample their wines. There are all kinds of things swirling around in my head as the wine swishes around in my glass. First of all, is the wine free of flaws, not is it “good” as that is totally subjective, but is it sound. Then come the other waves of questions; do I know at least six people that will adore this wine? What foods would I pair this with….and how often are people going to come in asking for that type of pairing? “This would be delicious with peach and wild rice stuffed pheasant” um, yeah, I get those requests on a daily basis, this is gonna fly! Then lastly, as an old world buyer, does the wine taste like where it comes from?

Another touchy subject, the notion of terroir and I’m not one of those people that is going to rant and make grand statements about that either. Well, not much anyway. Few things will trigger my, “Oh shut up” button faster than some yanker in my face telling me his central coast Chardonnay is Chablis like. No, no it’s not. It may be all stainless but it does not, cannot and should not taste like Chablis, and trust me, I get just as pissy with the old world folks that say that the wines of the new world have no sense of place. Total horseshit those comments and I simply won’t stand for it. For me, when I am buying wines for the store though, if a Sancerre tastes like….well, like Sauvignon Blanc, it has no place on my shelves, period.  There is just too much wine out there to chose from and to earn a spot in my departments the wines must be distinctive. Does that mean “good”?

I get it all the time. I stand there and yammer about flavors, textures and why I think this wine is exactly what the customer is looking for only to be met with, “Yes, but is it good?” and while I wish at times that I was a fortune teller, there is simply no way I can assure you that the wine is going to light your fire. I can promise you, (cork taint aside) that the wine is well made and as it should be but I can’t tell you, until I get to know you pretty well, that you are going to like it. Just too many factors; mood, food, company, hormones, temperature, that are beyond my control. The only thing I can say with 100% certainty, if the wine is at our store it has been chosen, selected for its merits and  one of our buyers, much like that 61st person that ended up with The Help on their desk, believes in it. 

A glass of wine, a seemingly simple enough thing but just like the first few pages of a book, the first time you hear a song and first kisses, sometimes you just gotta go for seconds……

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just Who Is Running This Doughnut Shop?!

Got home a little early last night fully intending on spending some time here waxing and groaning about wine. The heat making me feel swarthy, saturated, ready to really feel each heavy drip of sweat slithering down my spine as I pounded away at my laptop, sharing with all of you a new-ish and truly sensual love affair I'm having with a couple Italians and a few cats in Northern California.

Got home, made a dinner of gifted tuna that was caught on Monday, (customer brought me nearly 30 pounds in fact. Re-gifted some tuna that's for sure) bitter greens topped with the tiniest potatoes, boiled until soft, pressed between my palms until they split but still held their shape, then fried in olive oil until super crispy on all sides but still ultra creamy on the inside. Drizzled over the greens and potatoes a dressing of smashed garlic, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil. Simple, delicious and not too taxing. Perfect for preserving my creative juices. Yeah....

Nuzzled into my favorite writing spot and opted to just check out Facebook before getting started. Yeah, so those juices, spoiled. Came across this fantastic news  which sent me reeling and launched me into one of those nights where I start every goddamn sentence with, "What the fuck?!". My husband loves these nights. Not kidding about that, he actually gets a charge out of waiting to hear what might fly out of my never shutting trap. The calling of names, the big hand gestures, the cartoonish exasperated facial expressions. I married a freak.

Anyone that finds things like:

"Hey here's an idea. Let's do some research on the effects of mixing Botox and spray tan with teeth whitener! Clearly these fuckers are suffering some kind of reaction"

"Why don't we all just give the insurance companies blow jobs now so they don't jack up the prices on diabetic and heart medications for our grandchildren?"

"Oh okay, we can help shovel shit food into the mouths of the future of this country but we can't subsidize childcare so there parents could, oh I don't know....afford to work at one of the hellish establishments? Or better yet, how's about we pool the people that can't find work, start a childcare co-op so that the community is in fact caring for each other and people can afford to get some kind of maybe building solar panels?!"

"We can help our children get fatter and watch as they become sour cream and honey mustard huffers but Amy can't have a case of French wine shipped to her state?!"

and his personal favorite,

"Jesus would smack the shit out of these people"

anyone that finds that sexy is truly insane.

Lost my evening to rants, roaring and a bottle and a half of Pinot Gris.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Good For What Ails You

Where to begin? The two weeks since I last posted have been much of the same. Lots of feeling off balance and not quite sure where or when to drop my next step. Knowing that I am resting just beneath the skin that craves stimulation, touch, something, anything that makes my skin pull tight, my breath leave without my control…my groan rumble deep in the pit of empty that has been growling, begging to be fed.  Going through the motions as we all do when life grips its fingers on the plate we stand upon and gives it a fierce and hearty spin…find myself feeling like that five year that twists round and round only to find when I stop, things are still moving. My eyes trying to catch up and make sense or shape of what’s happening around me. Fucking August. I actually dug deep into the archives of this blog looking for something, a summer rerun to post and found that last year I was in the same kind of funk. Another maudlin post whining about the heat and how things just didn’t feel right…chose to spare the five of you that are waiting, (and sending me emails….you guys killed me yesterday by the way) from having to read that, again, hell I didn’t even want to read it again.

I would like to assure everyone that nothing tragic has befallen me. My health, marriage, family and job are all fine. Just seems that since the beginning of this summer something has been out of place; the husband has been traveling for work…a lot, staff members on vacations, friends that withdrew to handle their own inner strife, alone, Jeremy’s announcement that he will be away, further away, for longer and then the final blow, my Merritt leaving The Wine Country. I’m pretty flexible, can bend to fill in and adjust to most any situation but, well I think my elasticity was feeling a little brittle. Fragile and in need of some time where it wasn’t being pulled so fucking taut.  So I too withdrew a bit. Got lost in countless televisions shows and whatever movies happened to be on. Wasn’t really listening or watching mind you, just letting shit happen that didn’t require me to feel anything or react. 

Spent the days when I wasn’t working either moronically gazing at the humming box of flashing pictures or tucked into the corner of my couch, book stretched between my palms, dish of truffled almonds and glass of Fino Sherry at my side….all day. My nights were for tiptoeing out to my little stream, or slipping past the metal gate to the pool (which is almost always deserted after 9:30 PM)  where I would dip my feet into the still water, be captivated as the tiny disturbance gathered at my ankles and slowly, silently, spread across the length of the pool. Breathe out audible bits of frustration, releasing them has my feet, knees, thighs, hips, breasts and shoulders dipped in and out of water so creamy and warm that it made me feel like I was swimming in someone’s mouth. Somewhat entertained by my own crazy. Feeling this crushing amount of lonely and I find peace by being alone even more?! Whatever. On the walks back home from the pool, towel around my waist, jeans draped over my arm, hair drenched, flat against my scalp, dripping water down my back….the slapping of my still wet feet against the cement,sipping on a glass of whichever wine I chose to share my quiet time with….well, it felt kind of soothing. For a bit.

“Chicken soup. I’ll make a pot of chicken soup” I told myself as I walked into Vons last night. My husband is still away on business so a big pot of soup hadn’t really been on my radar much as of late but last night, it blipped on my screen and I made my way to the produce department to gather the standard fixings for the soup that literally changed my life fifteen years ago. It was upon tasting my mother in-law’s, (she wasn’t my mother in-law then) “fatty chicken soup” with the bottle of 1989 Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicholas Francois, a bottle of Champagne I had brought to impress them, that I fell madly and completely in love with Champagne. It started that evening and I knew, just knew that I was in the right place working at The Wine Country and that my life would forever be changed by what was in my glass. That simple soup is anything but simple to me, it’s affirming.

Got the onion, carrots, celery and before I knew it my basket also contained cilantro, garlic lemon and ginger…what the hell? The soup has always been, carrots, (only two dammit. I took over the making of his mother’s soup when my husband started putting way too much carrot) onion, celery, a whole chicken, salt and pepper. Always. What the hell was this other junk doing in my basket? I actually uttered that aloud in the produce department there at the Vons which sent me scurrying off for the chicken and small shelled pasta, feeling like a fucking nut case. Didn’t put the unneeded ingredients back, just grabbed the rest of what I needed and headed home.

Dropped the grocery bags on the kitchen table, flipped on the music, changed out of my work shirt and made myself a gin and tonic before I started chopping. Got out the big soup pot, put it on the stove, twisted the knob until I heard the click and whoosh of the flame before covering the bottom of the pot with a glug of olive oil. Cutting board out, the clink of ice swimming around in my drink as I took a sip and I began pulling the veggies from the bags. Onion chopped into four pieces, check. Six stalks of celery roughly chopped, check. Two, only two, carrots also roughly chopped, check. Jalapeno?! When did I grab that? A shrug of my shoulders and it too was sent into the pot of sizzling and sweating veggies. Figured it couldn’t hurt to toss a few garlic cloves in and ripped a handful of cilantro from the bunch, whacked off a knob of ginger and swung my hips to Mary J. Blige, “Real love, I’m searching for a real love, someone to set my heart free, real love” as I plunked those into the pot of “whoever’s” chicken soup I was making. Chicken washed and waiting I grabbed the soy sauce, white wine and a half used carton of stock that was in the fridge. Cooled the veggies with a splash of both soy sauce and wine, scrapped the bits of brown from the bottom of the pot, plopped that big ass bird, (dude, seriously, chickens are like morbidly obese now a day) in the pot, emptied the stock carton and added water. As I grabbed the lid for my giant stock pot I looked at all the bits floating in the darker-than-normal liquid, wondering what the hell had come over me and I heard her voice. “Um, I love your blog”. 

A customer I had been ringing up and helping for years. Beautiful, blonde, gorgeous eyes full of sweetness and a voice that dripped honey as she spoke to us in her southern drawl. I was taken aback a bit as I never think our customers read my silly shit here but there she was, a long time customer telling me that not only did she read it, she liked it. I felt the little hairs on my arms stand tall and my cheeks begin to feel flush as she, almost embarrassingly, told me that I should write a book. I was bagging her wines and I found myself trying not to make eye contact, awkward for a moment and I wasn’t sure why then she said, “I feel like I know you” that was when I looked up to see, through my own watering eyes, that hers too were filling with tears. “If you read my blog, then you do know me” I responded. We said our goodbyes but this time with something shared between us. Something beyond the wines I sell her. Connected beyond a bottle that gets tossed at the end of the night. Amazing.

“I thought, that must be Sam but why isn’t she coming to talk to me” the soft voice said as the tiny fingers gripped my wrist. Alice. I was standing next to Alice Feiring and she was happy to see me. The second I heard that she was going to be in LA to promote her newest book, Naked Wine, I knew I simply had to try and meet her. Alice was a fiery, red-headed voice of reason to me when I first started getting involved in the writing side of wine. At the time I had been skimming websites and books that all seemed so much the same to me. Talking about the same wines, the ones that weren’t my cup of tea and then I stumbled upon this big voice that oozed about Champagne, grower Champagne and wines from places, and estates that you rarely read about in other publications. Wines that I also loved and oozed about. And while I don’t agree with everything she is passionate about, (I dig natural wines but they have to please me first. If they smell of nothing but poop, well I can appreciate it but I sure as….shit, aint going to drink them) I admire her fire and strength. I had told her as much and was floored to find that she had read some of my writing and actually thinks highly of it. Amazing and now here I was, in a rather weird little wine shop in Downtown LA talking, getting books signed and sharing a glass of Champagne with her as she said things like, “Now what are we going to do about this memoir that you need to write” Unreal.

I tore more cilantro and placed it in the bottom of the bowl, topped it with chunks of boiled chicken and a couple scrapes of Parmesan cheese before showering it with a couple ladles full of jalapeno scented, richly colored, noodle studded broth. A quick squeeze of lemon and to the table I went with my bowl of weird soup. Took one bite and all the pieces were there; the pungent chicken flavor, the slightly oily texture, the sweet bits of cheese, the squish of slightly over cooked noodles….the soup that changed my life but, then came the little hint of spice, the vibrancy of cilantro, the tang of lemon, the flavors I crave most often and use nearly daily when making my own dishes. My soup.

 The sweet southern lady, two emails yesterday from readers letting me know that they miss me, Alice’s beautiful face, tiny hands, big “voice”, her encouragement and urging me to “unzip” my writing. The late nights alone with my body plunged into calm water while my head, and heart tried to make sense of the tidal wave that was battering away inside me, all if it filling me with each bite of my crazy, mixed up soup. Life is always changing, a recipe that needs tweaking and adjusting….that and a willingness to explore each bite, see what you can do without and what additions might actually enhance the flavors of your personal dish. I’m still working on it but last night, I tasted me in another bowl of life changing soup and for the first time in months, I felt full.

Soup, my soup....our soup, it’s good for what ails me…..