“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.