“Sam! Be careful. Steps were designed to be taken one at a time; you freak me out when you do that!”
My mother watching me as I my small hands gripped the handrails on both sides of the narrow staircase that aligned the coliseum-like cement stepped seating at the Marina Pacifica center. She’d brought me there for cookies, or under the pretense of getting me a cookie. She was there for a cookie…both an actual one along with the blast of sugar like rush she got from hob-nobbing with the people she wished she was. I’d get a lemonade, fresh squeezed and face-puckering, my young tongue and lips lapping away at the sour, savory juice that would forever be my favorite. I’d drink my pucker juice and cringe through half a head sized chocolate chip cookie, (thus giving her one and a half to devour) while I watched her try so desperately try to fit in.
I never really cared for sweets, even then but I played along as she excitedly told me we were headed to the then beautiful marina setting with its swank shops full of things we couldn’t afford. My little hands wrapping around the rails, my tennis-shoed feet leaving the ground as I swung, and would leap three or four steps at a time. Each time I landed I would first put my hands out in front of me, just making sure I had my footing, before looking at Mom and giving her the grin that let her know I was fine. Her shake of the head and eyes retreating back to her bent and creased novel, fingers pushing past the butter soaked paper to snap off another piece of peace giving cookie releasing me to swing and leap again.
I used to save the big steps, the ones that weren’t even really steps at all, but were the romantic and somewhat grandiose coliseum-like seats that I’m sure, were dreamed up by some local architect that must have smoked lots of pot and ached for a live music venue that didn’t involve driving. I saved those for when I knew she wasn’t looking. I could go up those treacherous seats; my knees chin-high and calves pulling as I braved my personal Everest. Climbing the seats like some wild monkey as the Long Beach well-to-do bustled by, bags in hand and trying fruitlessly to pretend that they were in Beverly Hills. My chest pulling, hair being lifted with the rush of air as I gained some speed. I would make it to the peak, better known as the parking level, and I would dash over to the “regular” staircase to begin my assent. Gripping hands, swinging feet.
I did stairs wrong. Been known to do lots of things wrong but for some reason those stairs always flash in my mind when I’m being told I’m doing something incorrectly. Wrong?! Maybe not traditional or the way others do, or have been doing it, but wrong? Well I beg to differ, and once arena where I will most assuredly grab those rails or take those calve stretching steps is when it comes to food and wine pairing. Not content, or convinced for that matter, that the old ideas of pairing are all that relevant anymore. Sure the guidelines are great; white wine with white fish or chicken, but what if that delicate white flesh has been cooked in a deep tomato broth with smoked paprika, Spanish sausage and saffron? Red wine with “meat”, (this one has always bugged me. What kind of meat?! Veal, spare ribs, pork cutlet?!) okay that’s fine I guess but you still think that Zinfandel is going to go with barbeque if it is of the vinegar and mustard variety? Or Italian red wine with, “Pasta”, this one sets me aflame quite a bit. Pasta is a noodle jackass, and unless you’re fixing to eat a plate of dry noodles saying anything goes with pasta just makes you look and sound like a bleating sheep. Those kind of blanket, and let’s not forget, hollow, statements drive me absolutely batshit. Crusty. Crusty old ideas that don’t take into account the fact that food and cooking have changed in the last, I don’t know, hundred years.
“I think Syrah would go. Maybe a Cal-Ital or Chateauneuf” suggestion from a coworker, the one I happen to butt heads with on the whole pairing issue, like a lot. I was making dinner from leftovers, roasted tri-tip and a sweet pea and cilantro puree, so I asked my fellow wine geeks what they would serve. The answers were all over but this one person was just set on a big, juicy red to accompany the dish and I simply could not wrap my head around it. I went on to explain that the puree was on the aggressive side and would likely be the dominate flavor on the plate seeing as my tri-tip is simply seasoned with salt and pepper before it takes a quick sear in my cast iron before being slowly roasted in the oven. It’s not smoked or grilled so the flavor is quite subtle, and much like the aforementioned fish, the protein was providing more texture than actual flavor. I finished my little explanation only to be met with him looking at me, while holding his hands in front of him as if he were holding a football and he said, “But tri-tip, that’s big meat, I think you need a big red” dude. It’s not the size of the meat but what you do with it.
I ended up grabbing a Rose from Provence to go with the dish and nabbed a bottle of Manzanilla to sip on while I was cooking. Was doing my little kitchen dance while assembling; toast the tortillas on the open flame, take a sip of Sherry. Flip now charred tortilla into dry frying pan, sprinkle with Jack cheese, sip of Sherry, add thin slices of tri-tip and red onion, sip of Sherry, smear with pea puree, top with a bit more cheese and a second charred tortilla. Quesadilla built, might as well take a sip of Sherry. Once removed from the pan and given enough time of the cheese to cool just a little, I began cutting the quesadilla in quarters, slicing off a little sliver of one to see what I thought of this leftover creation. Wow. Kind of brilliant use of what we had on hand, I was feeling mighty proud of myself as I stacked the wedges on a plate and…took a sip of Sherry. What happened when that salty, nutty wine met with the cilantro and sweet pea flavors was down-right otherworldly. I took another sip, you know, just to make sure I wasn’t high…had sipped on a bit of wine while cooking but, nope, there it was again, this fucking mind bending combination of things happening in my mouth, the kind of perfect pairing that should be written about and could change the mind of those that aren’t inclined to think there’s much to this whole pairing wine with food business. It was in fact one of the most explosive and sublime pairings I’ve ever had the pleasure to put in my mouth and had I stuck with the conventional wisdom, red meat/red wine, I would not have ever experienced.
I think it’s time for more of us wine and food people to grip those handrails, let our feet swing out from under us and take a few more leaps….