Tuesday, December 18, 2012

With Purpose

“Sam, I was wondering if you would make that dip of yours. You know the one you make with your mixer that is really creamy with that onion flavor that I love?” My mother in a playfully begging tone, big blue eyes full of sincerity convincing me that I simply had to make my special dip to help her in her time of need.

I was seven or eight years old and my countless hours underfoot in my mother’s kitchen had inspired her to ask Santa to bring me the knock-off version of an Easy Bake Oven and some sort of hard plastic stand mixer. My mother, a thick but mostly weighed down by life woman nearly always seemed lighter when she was in her kitchen. More at peace and I found myself drawn there beside or near her, just to soak up as much of that as I could before life outside the smells of caramelizing animal flesh and steamed broccoli crept up on her, reminded her how unhappy she really was. 

When I was lots younger the kitchen was a much sadder place, cold, full of banging cabinet doors that would send me scampering across the tile floor, slamming of metal bowls and the rattle of measuring cups. The thud as a box of Bisquick hit the counter, little huffs of powder escaping from the sides of the box as my mother prepared another batch of….at the time, Life Saving Pancakes. We lived on those puffy little butter browned disks for weeks at a time, sometimes changing things up with a can of creamed corn when one could be afforded but the Bisquick thud and sticky glass bottle of Aunt Jemima plopped on the table were signs that there were to be sobs at the kitchen sink and both of us would be going to bed with food in our bellies but hungry in ways that would affect us for…well, forever. Once moved to Long Beach and living in the home of a man that gave my mother great financial relief, albeit at the expense of her daughter’s, (unbeknownst to her) emotional wellbeing, well I think we both found some peace in thud of firm, fresh vegetables being chopped from their stalks and thick slabs of meat, actual meat, being prepared, the sizzle at the moist flesh hit a smoking hot pan, meat being readied for us to sink our teeth into. 

I may have been just a little too old for the Easy Bake Oven I unwrapped Christmas morning, the one wrapped in the same wrapping paper my mother used to wrap the gifts the awful man that owned the house would drop off in our “quarters” for her to wrap for him. My mother’s beautiful handwriting on the gift tag, “To: Sam From: Santa”. Too old for sure and had there been any question my, “Now how hot is this oven if this plastic arm thingie is what I’m supposed to use to pull my cakes from the oven? It’s plastic. Plastic.” I can still remember how annoyed I was, my hours in the fancy, food filled kitchen and all its aromatic splendor had not earned me a little more cred than “Santa” thinking I was content watching a fucking light bulb bake a shitty ass cake that I would use a plastic retriever thing to remove from the oven before frosting it with a packet of dust that I mixed with water. Fuck you. The mixer however…that was down-right badass and even came with a cookbook, THE cookbook that held within its cheap ass plastic spiral binding, the recipe for my now, (um that would be my 7 year old now) famous dip that my mom needed, needed me to sweat over and make.

I plugged my mixer into the outlet in my room, aka the place where the washer and dryer lived, and quickly returned to the kitchen to gather far more bowls than I could ever possibly need. Pulled one of the chunky wooden kitchen chairs to the panty, (a fucking walk in pantry…to this day I crave one of those even though I used to hide in that one, often with a bowl of sliced green bell peppers that I had doused in red wine vinegar, black pepper, garlic powder and salt just to pretend I wasn’t in that house for the bell pepper duration) and low and behold, the secret ingredient of my famous dip, well it was sitting there on the third shelf. How lucky was that? Too old indeed.

Secret fixings in my hot little hands I marched back to the waiting mixer, ready to get my chef on and save the day. Measured out the 2 cups of sour cream, (and I swear it was not quite 2 cups…more like 1 and ¾ cups) and scraped the blob of white into my multi-colored mixer before tearing open the packet of Lipton’s Onion Soup mix (shhhhh, super-secret ingredient) and dumping it atop the white blob waiting in my mixer. 20 minutes….took 20 minutes of laborious whirling and wheezing from my Tonka stand mixer to properly incorporate the magical combination of wicked fancy, ingredients that came together and made that creamy, luscious, onion flavored wonder that was my special dip. My pudgy little hands wrapped around the spatula scraping the mixer bowl, trying to make sure we didn’t miss a drop. “It’s not ready yet. It needs to set so the dried onions get soft” I announced as I placed my day-saving dip in the fridge before giving my hair a glamorous flip and flouncing off to rest after saving the day and all. To this day I won't go near pancakes and the smell of syrup not only makes me feel weirdly sullen, it makes me a little gaggy but that fucking onion dip is like goddamn kryptonite to me, I’m powerless in the face of its mouth filling creaminess and savory, almost beef stock like richness of flavor. Aint fancy but it is damn tasty and when something can captivate you, (and don’t lie, you groan and grunt, ooze and moan just as much as I do) like that, well it is a winning combination of flavors that deserves to be talked about, regardless of fancy pants status…

“I just can’t stop drinking this” the smiling face of a coworker at our holiday party as he slurped away at the less meaty, less fancy, (like by far) red wine in his left glass while spearing hunks of beef that were glazed in béarnaise sauce. Two wines in front of us all. Two wines of pedigree albeit one with a far richer and more expensive history than the other and a room full of wine professionals drained one glass so quickly that it was almost scary. One wine flourishing with the food, putting on muscle and strutting about while the other, much more famous and serious wine, kind of whimpered and went flaccid with the food. I went about asking which wine was better but it was strictly for lip service. I knew which wine was better, it was the one that had been drained from the curvy glasses and was so enticing that we couldn’t keep our lips off of it. Loire Cabernet Franc in the form of a sexy little Chinon just obliterated the much thicker and raved about Northern Rhone Syrah, the  Clape Cornas…by a lot. The Cornas was without a doubt a stunning wine but in the context of that meal, we needed the less serious and ultimately gratifying bite and snap of the Chinon. The freshness and mouthwatering acidity it provided was the balance the meal needed and without even talking about it our staff just gobbled up the Chinon in the unserious manor in which it was designed.  It took just a sip or two for our entire group to rain extreme praise, in the form of an empty glass, upon the lesser known but highly appropriate Cabernet Franc.

A humble wine was elevated, made deeper, fuller and more complex when given the right tools, much like a silly seven year old with a packet of dried soup mix, big blue begging eyes and a way to feel important or have purpose.


Marcia Macomber said...

I had the exact same Easy Bake Oven. I likely was given it young enough as I remember having it in our old house b/w 4 and 6 years old. I don't remember a plastic cake pan retriever, but I do remember pushing/sliding it through to the exit slot. Loved it! Never had a mixer though.

Lipton's onion is still a favorite for just the flavors you described. But I dare not keep it in the house or I'd eat it al at once. 'Tis the time of year our memories all get jostled quite a bit with mixed results.

Romes said...

So funny you said kryptonite - I was just reading an old FB message last week when I was confirming your address, and you had said you made onion dip and I was berating you for making my kryptonite!

Damn I love that stuff, especially with a brand new bag of ruffles, I can practically smell the chips sitting here at my desk...

Thanks for the memories my sweetest soul sister, from both the far and recent past.

Love you!

gabe said...


Samantha Dugan said...

I think I baked less than one cake in that damn oven but I made the hell out of some dip in my mixer alright. I think there was one other recipe, (read stirring stuff together) I made with that thing but it wasn't long after getting those silly toys that Mom needed my help in the kitchen, so that blender/mixer deal was sort of like my Pooh, I outgrew it and moved on.

I believe with all that I am that Ruffles were designed for the sole purpose of being a vessel for our beloved onion dip. I love you girlie and thank you so much for holding my head while I fell apart the other night. I needed that, and you.

Oh kid, this piece was utter crap but my non-smoking writer's block has been bugging the shit outta me so I let myself babble and posted it just to keep pushing, and possibly annoy myself enough to try and write something better. But thanks for the visit and comment, it helps more than people know. By the way, fantastic comment over at HoseMaster, "Older drinkers become dead drinkers" was spot on and something we've seen first hand at the shop. These older score chasers have either kicked or retired and are now drinking their collections rather than adding to them and the newer wine lovers, (and maybe that is the difference, wine lovers not wine drinkers) don't give two shits about scores. Ugh, not getting sucked into the score conversation again! Just wanted you to know I was nodding in agreement...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
No way in the world I'd have eaten onion dip when I was a kid. Though Easy Bake Ovens were weirdly cool. I think my brother tried to cook my hamster in my sister's.

Your points are well-taken. Wine is meant to be delicious, and that has little to do with price, just like your onion dip. And it's often the humble wines that are better company at the table. I used to ask people, "Who do you want to share your dinner table with, the loud, flamboyant guy who won't shut up, or the interesting, subtle guy who contributes but blends in?" That is, drink the big, jammy, 95+ wine, or drink the lovely Chinon. I think, like you, that's an easy call.

Meanwhile, I continue to admire your gift for storytelling.

I love you!

Rogue Wino said...

Such a beautifully written, sweet story. As a kid I used to eat onion dip with sour cream and onion chips- doubling down on the salt-and-onion goodness.
Your story of the Chinon made me want pop over to Kermit Lynch and grab something light and Frenchy!

gabe said...

Thanks Sam! I am trying to stay out of the score conversation, and trying to explain why I think true wine writers are still important.

This piece was not what I had in mind in that thread, but I really like the way you think about wine and food. Cheap onion dip made on a kiddie mixer by a 7-year old will always be better than a burre blanc from a fancy restaurant. I can't explain why, but you just did. So thank you.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
It was a crap analogy babe but thanks for playing along. I think the point I was trying to get at was that the humble dip made me richer, stronger, more powerful just as the humble wine was made regal and stunning with the food. Yeah, like I said, shit analogy but I was feeling that gnawing deep in my tummy and those "Don't you miss it?" licks at the bottom of my spine...needed to write something. You indulge me and I not only appreciate that, I love you for it.

Rogue Wino,
Welcome to my humble abode. Thanks for popping in. I may have just met my match in the salt lovin' department, impressive.

There is not one area in our shop that is on more fire than the Loire, and Cabernet Franc from the Loire is leading the charge. Kind of insane but rewarding as both my boss and I have been telling, preaching about, those wines for years...seems like people finally let it soak in and once they've tried them...kinda hard to go back. Get your rump over to Kermit's tiny shop and get you some mouth watering Chinon...which means steer clear of the Joguet, those wines are just weird now...but the 2010 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil Cuvee Alouettes, damn.

Samantha Dugan said...

I knew exactly the kind of wine writing you were talking about, it is what I strive to do and the kind of writing that inspires me too. This post was not one of those but when i wrote about Dagueneau and Lulu at Tempier....those are the stories that brought people into our store looking to try the wines from the place and the people they read about here or in the store newsletter. I've been stomping about here for years now talking about connections and how important they are, so it's nice to come screen to screen with another in my business that feels the same.

If you are ever bored



very old posts, (feels like so long ago and I think my tone/voice has changed, at least here) but it shows that I know of what you speak..

gabe said...

i'll check it out.

i once heard a quote about young artists and art critics. i don't remember the details, but it said that you should listen to what critics don't like about your artwork, then do it to the extreme. that's the thing that makes you special.

your writing is so far from what most people consider "wine writing"; that's probably what makes it so good. I really liked this blog. I thought it was heartfelt and deep, but still relatable and digestible. 91 points! :-)

Wine writers are important to wine makers and wine drinkers. hopefully we all support each other. you're good at what you do. keep up the good work.

Valerie said...

I barely remember my EZ bake oven - obviously baking a 'cake' with a lightbulb did not inspire once the thing was in my possession. What I do remember was my grandmother making meatballs - she'd give me a nice pile of that raw seasoned meat to play with. Hey, we're Italian, it's what we did. - germs and all. To this day, I season my meatballs more by memory than recipe ...

Samantha Dugan said...

Well onion dip is nothing if not easy to digest. I've heard that same quote and that has been kind of what I try and do here. I have lost lots of wine blog readers and the thing is, I am way fine with that. I can't read those things myself anymore. I often talk to Ron about being weary of blogging and the deeper I look into that, the more I see it is not blogging I'm bored to shit with, it's the limitations and expectations to "wine blogging" that I am done with. I just popped over to STEVE!'s and fuck, same people talking the same crap and for me and the way wine touches me...I just can't bring myself to care, be active or participate in that foolishness anymore. I have far fewer readers that STEVE!, Joe, Alder, Dr, Vino and Charlie but the ones I do have, well they feel me and there is something very powerful in that for me. (I left Ron out on purpose and he gets WAY more readers than I but seeing as his blog is not a traditional "wine blog" I left it out...and his is one I could read everyday)

I'm tired of arguing with people that simply see things differently than I and work in a different end of the business than I do. I can't listen to one more blogger or critic tell me what my customers want or how I should be selling wine. Big circle of getting nothing done. So Gabe, I thank you for digging what it is I do here, means a lot.

When did the world become freaked out about hamburger? I used to sprinkle salt on little pieces and eat it raw. I'm the same way with most of what I cook, making things by feel rather than using a recipe. Guess that is what happens when you spend time getting comfortable in the kitchen...

Winey the Elder said...

Well Samantha,

Just in case the end of the world crazies are right, my thoughts turn to you and Bruce Cockburn:

"If this were the last night of the world,
What would I do?
What would I do that was different?
Unless it was champagne with you?"

Marie Courtin "Resonance"? I thought you'd never ask.

To a new day. I "heart" you.

Sara Louise said...

Little seven year old Sam makes me smile x

Samantha Dugan said...

Well my heart melting man, you just made me both "awe" and had the bonus of making my shoulders soften and my face stretch and go puffy in places they often don't....think they call that a smile in some parts. I had a long retail wine store day, (things are getting crazy out there indeed...nearing the end but that is where we tend to find the freaked out and impossible folks) that lead into a very late dinner of take out fried chicken, (You, me, Champagne and KFC, will be my first song on my solo album and after this comment, so dedicated to you.) which is my favorite Champagne food. I had hopes of getting something up this evening but found the cradle of the couch just too comforting for my sizable ass to resist. I just went in and splashed warm water and lovely smelling washy stuff onto my face, slipped into my biggest and least flattering bright green jammies and tried to wash a big purple smudge off the top of my hand only to discover, after scrubbing, that it was in fact a bruise...ouch, mother f'er! So imagine how sweet it was to come here and see you, thinking of me and saying the kind of things that make me wish I could grab your face and pepper it with kisses. The world can't end tonight sweet Winey, how could it when we've yet to meet? Sleep darlin' and rest assured, you made my night.

Well she could make a fierce ass dip I can tell you that!