The Sip

An archive of notes from 2015—2019

La Onda

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Dani’s wines struck something in me the first time we tasted. There is humor in them, a wit that’s both a perfectly-timed dry joke and a painfully-observant truth. There’s acceptance in them. Acceptance that the vineyards are not his, and the wines are a byproduct of care taking more than anything else. They are not performing, or dressed up in the fashion of the moment. They’re at ease and they are themselves, much like Dani himself. They’re made with the little fruit and space Dani has, and hosting him at All Time recently was an extreme privilege and a magical night. Here’s a peek at the evening, and a look at my visit to North Yuba.

to request La Onda wine, olive oil, and Dani’s vermut from the dinner, please visit Pour This or email us! info@pourthis.com

 Dani works entirely by hand, de weeding and pruning everything himself Dani works entirely by hand, de weeding and pruning everything himself

Don’t Drink the Hype

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RAW WINE came to the west coast for the first time. And while there’s certainly plenty to celebrate about wines made without intervention, great wine exists not in binary terms, and not in isolation, but at the confluence of intuition, human skill, and nature. Read my latest piece on Life & Thyme, where I challenge the natural wine trend’s motivations and merits. 

Sicily 2017

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The week before I left for sicily I wanted to cancel the trip. I understand only in retrospect why that was. See, you’re not supposed to meet your heroes. We are cushioned by different lifetimes, countries, and generations from the people we admire most, the ones that inspire or influence our work, for good reason:

Humans aren’t meant to live up to that kind of expectation. 

When I stepped out of the car at Arianna’s house, the work day was ending. I was greeted with a breed of warmth and energy reserved for family that put me at ease but also illuminated the fact that we would be working hard. Over the next ten days I would work, sleep, cook, eat meals, drink wine, make inappropriate jokes – all of life’s most mundane things – alongside a person I’d admired for a decade. Here are some scenes stolen from that time, reduced to words on a page spoken in past tense, a fact that breaks my heart a little bit but also keeps the light of the whole thing shining forward. 

.  .  .

First, I’d never actually worked a harvest. I knew it would be hard, and physical, and I was even looking forward to a certain amount discomfort; a mild kind of suffering to make the whole thing feel real. Cut to: don’t use that squeegee there; the crates aren’t stacked like that; the floor must be cleaned in between every single load of grapes (but why?!); careful, the leaves get discarded separately from the bad fruit – and so on. But the thing is, no one actually criticizes you. The young Italians who worked full time at Occhipinti and whose fingernails still harbored dirt from harvest 2012 just gave a polite va bene, io posso – a friendly don’t worry, I got it! And that directly translates to you’re doing it wrong.

But I moved fast and tried to fit myself in somewhere out of the way but productive. On day two I found a rhythm and embraced my constant state of being damp and dirty. The satisfaction of watching work pile up and diminish at my own hand was cumulative: the more crates I washed/stacked in threes/towered on pallets/plastic-wrapped/sent off in trucks to be loaded with frappato again, the more pleasure I took in hosing down the concrete after each load was sorted and pumped into its tank. The ground gently sloped toward long drains, luring dirt and water in linear columns to an underground destiny. I got good at it. Squeegee-ing, at least. I was mostly useless at the stuff in the cellar. Pumping over involved crouching on concrete into a giant cave, while wielding an equally giant hose with wine racing through it; the tank was an invisible, thick cloud of carbon dioxide (don’t breathe in!) and the task demanded reaching the hose far into the corners (lean inside more!). It was uncomfortable, difficult work that required lots of plastic tubes, awkward clamps, tubs, and the constant rigging and covering and transferring of items.

Squeezing the grapes for the passito and lifting handfuls into the basket press was very satisfying. The inner nine-year old that loved to sink my fingers deep into a twinkie at 7-11 (don’t ask me why I did this!) found it fulfilling. The crates of grapes were heavy and I moved too slow, so I demoted myself the sorting table, grabbing leaves and bad grapes as they passed me and the bunches then moved up the ladder, into the de-stemmer, their tanks, their future.

It reminded me of a kitchen. There was saran wrap to cover giant buckets of fermenting wine, rakes for spreading out the must before it went to get pressed, and a pace and rhythm that seemed chaotic as an outsider but I knew better. Every action was meaningful, significant, purposeful and a part of the whole; the tools were analogue, the processes simple.

Those things that happened in the cellar were essential, and had to be done well, and correctly. You measured, tracked, logged, and cleaned – constant cleaning.

But when did it become wine?

The mornings were early and we were still last to the cellar. By 7:30 the kitchen had emptied, save for abandoned espresso cups and a couple bags of biscuits left behind, should we want cookies for breakfast. The cellar was already in motion, buckets and tubes shuttling overhead and in between things, wine being pumped over, details being recorded. Our days were divided into two portions: eating and drinking, and the work in between. Lunch was always longer than I expected it to be for a workday, and a welcome break would still follow the meal, and things would slow down. The young Italians who spoke few words during the work periods peeled off into small groups and exposed their youth by looking at Facebook feeds and talking about girls. 

Long work days were met with proportionally long dinners in the family kitchen. We cooked every night, and Arianna filled our glasses with sparkling frappato from a unmarked bottle (made for friends and family only) and played Paolo Nutini. We made a mess, one that would be alluded to in Italian by the winery manager regularly.

Paolo (in Italian): everyday I go to the kitchen to set the table for the tasting, and there is eggplant hiding under the chairs! Cheese stuck to the table!

I was certain we cleaned each night but so it goes! Paolo’s lamenting only made me laugh harder at lunch so we promised to hide plenty of leftovers on our departure. That table hosted formal tastings and winery tour guests during the day, but at night we covered it with giant bowls of local vegetables, salad, roasted pork, homemade pasta; our group shrunk and expanded from twelve to six and back each night, depending on who was around, and we piled each other’s plates and filled each other’s glasses for hours. Stories and questions and dirty jokes toggled rapidly from Spanish to Italian to English and back. Each night we’d drink plenty, but we’d also taste: bottles cloaked in black bags poured mysteriously into our glasses and we discussed: was it Sicilian? Piedmontese? I don’t think it’s Italian… how old do you think it is? to me it has some age.. do you like it? For me it’s too animal .. yes but I’d rather drink this than conventional wine… yes of course but we are not discussing conventional wine, we are discussing this wine, do you like it? 

Some said yes, some no. Arianna said only: a wine either gives energy or takes it away. 

I was awestruck. 

Blind tasting is always so clinical, fraught with competition and so goal-oriented; to bathe it in open dialogue, true curiosity, it was a revelation. 

One night, Eduardo poured a twinkling, translucent red into our glasses. The wine was enchanting. Almost familiar but I didn’t recognize it, which led me to guess things I knew were not right; I’d never had this wine. Opinions traveled around the table, mostly in Italian, and I asked him quietly, was it from Italy? He said no. A man of few but important words. Then, unprompted, he told me it was a very important wine for him personally.  Reserved but not shy, he didn’t announce this detail to everyone, just to me. I was more curious than ever. He pulled the wine from the bag, revealing its origin to be Tenerife, his home in the Canary Islands.

That would be enough to make my own deduction about why it was significant. But there was more: Sure, Envinate is made by winemakers he looked up to, on his island home. But when he mentioned going to Italy to work and learn, his friend from Envinate said to Eduardo: you MUST visit and work at Arianna Occhipinti, she is doing incredible winemaking.

In 2012, prompted by this urging from a mentor, Edu went to work harvest at Occhipinti; this is how he and Arianna met. They have been together for five years. 

I held that story while the wine from Tenerife seeped into my cells, trying to absorb all of the warmth in the room and put my finger on the thread that was keeping the meal, the moment, these people, and this wine invisibly and seamlessly strung together. 

I determined it to be balance. Everything was weightless and so we floated off to bed.

So when was the wine made?

When the fruit made it into the cellar just moments before the rain came, the wine was made; when Arianna made fun of Nico and Giovanni (lovingly dubbed chip & chop) for joking too much while balancing high on a ladder to reach the highest tank, the wine got made; when we became a machine that moved in unison despite the four languages spoken working fast to unload, sort, de-stemm, transfer, wash, spray, wrap and repeat, the wine was made; when Eduardo cracked a smile because Arianna witted him to, the wine was made; when we picked olives, forking them and staining our fingers brown and salty while laughing about bad translations and the messy kitchen guests (us), when Peppe showed up and sat at the cellar door, a mere 6 pounds of lost puppy, the wine was made; and when Arianna and I sat, just the two of us, to discuss serious matters of the heart and work and life – moments you should not be allowed to have when a visit is so short and so important – the wine was made. 

This was what it was like to be a part of harvest, to be touching it for the first time in my wine life. I imagine it’ll all pour out and dazzle me when I get to drink the 2017 vintage. 

Vin de Jardin: Garden dinner with Marco Pelletier

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On a recent Friday night, Marco Pelletier of Domaine de Galouchey was in town. I’ve enjoyed his fresh, dangerously drinkable wines for a few years, but never had the chance to meet him. While his tiny domaine is in Bordeaux, he elects to forgo the prestigious geography and declassifies his wine, calling it simply Vin de Jardin. Hardly a hectare, Marco fancies his domaine more of a garden, anyway, so it certainly seemed fitting to host him in ours. The evening was filled with beauty and warmth, lots of brisket and cobbler, and some of the most stunning bluegrass my ears have ever had the pleasure of drinking up. Here’s a little taste for your eyes and ears. 

 

video shot and edited by Benjamin Zacaroli

photos by Mireyah Marcinek and Benjamin Zacaroli

FRANCE 2017

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In July, I took off for France to travel by way of motorcycle, meet some of my favorite & most important wine producers on their home turf, and take in the history and backroads. I was in the saddle for three weeks (the hammock, sometimes, too) and traversed over 7000 kilometers. I took lots of baths, I read less than I thought I would, I opened my computer approximately zero times. I ate a lot of yogurt, I ate a lot of cheese, I ate a lot of ham, I ate a lot of ham & cheese; I ate peaches shaped like donuts, peaches with flesh the color of butter and just as creamy, butter on its own (one to several times). I drank a lot of terrible coffee, and a tiny amount of truly incredible coffee; I dipped into water falls, crashed into swimming holes, tripped over cobble stones and reveled in the handwritten wine lists and the overwhelming generosity of everyone I met.

This trip was a voyage – to taste wine yes, but much more so to meet some of the best winemakers in the world, to ask the questions directly, to smell the air and the cellar and the ground for myself, and know with all my senses: this is the stuff. And I know that it is, but not because the grapes are magical or the recipe is proprietary or the business plan is genius or the marketing is coy.

These wines are made with the bare hands and open hearts of real people with a profound understanding of the souls of the plants, the delicateness of true balance, the earth herself. They exist in what they make, because they know enough to stay out of the way; I know this might sound a tad sentimental, but you’re just going to have to embrace it, drink it up, and enjoy it (the wines are featured in September’s Monthly Pour, so if ever there was a time to sign up, it’s now).

Also, you should know something: being on a motorcycle for 21 days, well, it does something to you: the wind is a bully that beats you up – someone who socks you in the shoulder meat to steal your lunch money; the midday sun bakes through your jacket, leaving you parched and compelling you to pull off the side of road, fling off your clothes, and get into that stream down there; the rain needles your every square inch; a bee stings your hand, small rocks hit your knees and travel right angles around your glasses and into your eyes; through the macabre of splattered bugs on your shield, you watch the day’s fading light dance on the horizon, like maybe you could actually get to it. But the road stretches out too fast, disappears behind you, uncurls ever forward. You feel tiny inside your helmet so you open it a crack and then: your being is flooded with smells in such bounty you try and grab them all, but they fly by too fast: oak trees, exhaust, wet dirt roads, damp forest, burning wood, that stream you keep seeing, the confluence of two rivers, bread baking, melons ripening, green things you can’t name, flowers you’ve never known, dry grass, wet grass, mysterious things the breeze offers up to you, cows, butter, cheese; the entirety of France. These smells become part of your matter and you recognize them in what you eat and drink later for dinner that night.

All of this perforates you, punctures you, prods you open an infinite microscopic number of times; and now, you are permeable, soluble, like only a motorcycle can make you.

This is how I know.

And it’s how I absorbed every last milligram of it all (we’re on the metric system over there, you know that!). Here’s an all-too-brief visual tour of the trip:

California Stories: Seventy Sheep Named Bob & Other Tales

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   skandia shafer

skandia shafer

It was a beautiful night. We sipped (we drank), told stories and exchanged impressions, we chatted, and we lost ourselves in the hazy, pre summer heat that filtered into the warehouse space with generosity and abundance. It was a night of good people, good wines, conversation, and food – all of the things I hoped it would be. 

Here are the tangible bits I can share with you; the rest of it, the real magic, got absorbed into the old tapestries and hand-made garments, Matt’s art hanging on the walls, the songs that moved us to dance, and ultimately, our spongy souls. This part, the part I can’t post or email or illustrate, is the why, the what, and the how. The very reason for Pour This. If you came, thank you.

  benjamin zacaroli

benjamin zacaroli

the space: “even a t shirt has a story” – imogene + willie 

…you can’t really capture the way the light pours into imogene + willie undisclosed in downtown LA. Their spot lives on the other side of the 4th street bridge, where the warehouse’s plain metal siding and right angles speak nothing of its soulful guts. I’ve felt a pull toward i+w for a long time, marveling at their thoughtful, patient approach to making through the filters of social media, and aspiring to the way they weave the personal in between the threads of cone denim and carefully-chosen textiles.

  via  imogene + willie

via imogene + willie

The question on the surface might be easy to point at: what’s wine got to do with clothing? I’ll let Carrie answer (on denim):

“i love that it’s not synthetic. i love that something unwashed has a better chance of being soft when it’s broken down by life instead of a machine. i love that this jean reminds me every day that instant gratification is a shortcut and a road that i now choose to be less traveled. i love that this jean is the only material object i own that can honestly and vulnerably tell the flawed story of me.”

And also, Matt (on his hand-printed t shirts):

“just the simple fact that you can’t crank out a hundred an hour makes it all the more special. each time you ink up the board, it comes out a little bit different. no two will ever be the same.” 

– matt.

Obviously they get it. I wanted to be in their space, so I reached out – and I’m so happy we met them.

the wines: “a winnowing down to the essential” – dani rozman, la onda

  via la onda wines

via la onda wines

…when I first met Dani, he was there to show me someone else’s wines. So in my backyard we tasted the wines he was selling and at the end of our meeting, he goes, I also have my wines, do you want to try those?

He had no wine to sell, because each of the wines he showed me had been made in such small quantity that it was very unlikely I’d get to buy any. The wine that caught my tongue was this Cabernet Sauvignon, a white wine. It comes from one vineyard in North Yuba, and only about 600 bottles were made. And we got to share them:

It was a remarkable, dazzling thing, this wine. It’s the kind that yields a forward tumbling of the senses, where adjectives won’t do and the experience is hard to call by name; this was a wine deserved of sharing, not because it was a party trick (ohh, a white cab!), but because of its purity, its empirical form, its winnowing down to the essential, Dani explains:  

I’ve settled in California for the time being (I love that he says for the time being – really captures his spirit, and if you can picture him he is young, curly hair, quiet but with that patina that travel and working the land will paint on a person), but Itata (Chile) was where I first learned to make wine. My ideas on low-interventionist farming and winemaking were born there, then further shaped through experiences in both places, a winnowing down towards the essential that continues to this day. Before traveling to Chile in 2013, I was led to believe that I would find a swampy valley without the potential to produce wines of consequence. What I found instead were rolling granitic hills, century-old bush vines and traditional winemaking practices. Itata looks, smells and tastes exactly how you might dream a nearly forgotten wine region would. It evokes old foudres made from raulí, small family farms, porotos con riendas y longaniza, forests of eucalyptus and a coastal breeze. I’ve tried to keep all these things in the wine without taking anything out. 

My intention is to remove myself from the winemaking process as much as possible.”  -dani rozman

Dani farms 18+ acres of vineyard in the North Yuba AVA of the Sierra Foothills. He calls it “a dream scenario” because he is collaborating with friends who share his minimalist approach to farming, who are willing to relinquish some control to nature.  They work the vineyard without any chemicals, without irrigation, and with the help of about 70 sheep (I’ve named them all Bob).  

 these are the Bobs!  via  dani rozman

these are the Bobs! via dani rozman

And then, when you think of Chardonnay what do you think of? The polarizing responses tend to comes from the mark that commercial CA companies leave on the unsuspecting consumer public, but the grape itself is really so much less important than who is making the wine and where: 

  benjamin zacaroli

benjamin zacaroli

I met Diego in a tasting appointment with no background knowledge of him or his wines. He also has crazy curly hair, and looks like a Berkeley graduate (or drop out) with a really genuine vibe. He pours me a few wines and then we get to this Chardonnay. I demanded the story. On his hunt for some vineyards that would allow him total farming control, he comes across a Craigslist ad (!). It just this cryptic (is there any other kind of CL ad??), short listing for Chardonnay plantings in Manton Valley, a remote area about 3 hours north of Napa. It’s at the foothills of both Mt. Lassen to the east, and Mt. Shasta to the west. So there’s this incredible volcanic influence that’s really different than the Sierra Foothills.

Anyway, Diego gets on the phone with an old woman who answers – like really old. She tells him she has a bunch of Chardonnay and she doesn’t know what to do with it, no one seems interested and there are all these grapes going to waste.

Diego: Ok, when did you plant them?

Lady: no my father planted them actually…back in the 70s.

Diego: Oh, ok (getting excited), what did you graft them onto? Most vines are planted as grafts of a younger vine onto existing other rooted vines that have been engineered to be resistant to a certain type of pest that destroys grape vines in particular. Own-rooted vines – especially in California – are pretty rare.

Lady: Oh, these are own-rooted vines. He never grafted anything he just stuck ’em in the ground and they’ve been growing ever since.

Diego (at this point frantically scribbling notes, and mapping travel to remote Manton Valley): Um, ok ok, and what type of vineyard treatments do you use? (Diego wants to know what chemicals / pesticides etc have been applied, to get a better understanding of what changes he’ll have to make and how expensive and lengthy the process will be to move toward organics).

Lady: Nothing, we just stuck them in the ground and they grew.

The holy grail: no chemicals, own rooted vines, planted in the 70s, found on Craigslist.

And this wine tastes like that: so clean, pure, and mountain-y – unlike the typical California Chardonnay.

Diego also makes a red, and I really love it. California winemakers back in the 70s were pioneers, rebels, and intent on making wines that could last generations and reflect the land. It wasn’t just an aspiration to be French, but conditions in California had a great deal of similarity to those in Bordeaux. Blending in Bordeaux is also an artform, calling forth the solid truth that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This wine is primarily Merlot, with some Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s so classically old California.

Diego and his partner Sam make the wine in their basement. Not unlike an indie band from the 90s. The basement is subterranean which means it’s a perfect 55 degrees all year, so they don’t need to control the temperature of the wine during fermentation or storage. It’s all done naturally, by gravity, in a sanctuary underground rife with deep knowledge and appreciation of old world winemaking and California history. This wine is available for a short time if you hit me up! 

“it tasted like I was drinking an old man, his favorite leather chair, and taking in all of his secrets and wisdom” – kyle a. of i+w

And last, because history:

We opened 1978 Zinfandel Rutherford Hill from Mead Ranch in Atlas Peak. I wanted to share this wine because it’s historic, but it’s also delicious. A good friend of mine, someone I first met because I was buying wine for restaurants, ended up a good friend ten years later. He plays the air piano better than anyone I know. He shot me a text me one nigh with a picture of Rutherford Hill 1978 Zin.

Hey I got this …stuff. Do you want in? I could literally hear him look left and right like a trenchcoat salesman in an alley through this one text. Uh Yeah. I said. I want it. These old relics were stored in their orginal, unopened boxes and hadn’t moved in 40 years. Off the books, fell off the truck, back alley sally, landed in my lap. 

Rutherford Hill is historic, and they really championed Bordeaux varietals from the beginning, had this foresight for California and wanted to make wines of power and concentration in that old Bordeaux style. This is a wine that can’t be over explained, you just have to drink it to be a part of history.

There’s a story in the bottle, a lot of which will remain a mystery to us, but there’s also a story about the night we hang out at imogene + willie and drank it together, in awe of how you cannot rush time.

You can’t replicate worn in boots, you have to walk the miles; Tom Waits sounds different on old vinyl than on itunes; jeans only truly begin to forgive our impatience after many rides, dances, leaps, and drives. Wine is the same: You can’t shortcut or mass make the best things in life, and those said best things don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist as part of a story. Tasting is not an art or a skill, and I don’t even really believe in it – you have to spend time with the wine and get to know it, let it change, let it mark and ultimately change you, too. That’s where the story shows itself and also where it becomes ours to write. 

   skandia shafer

skandia shafer

 

 

How Do You Sleep at Night

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   Helen Masacz : Empty Bed / How Can You Sleep At Night. Oil on Board

Helen Masacz : Empty Bed / How Can You Sleep At Night. Oil on Board

I’ve never been an insomniac. I like sleep – love it, in fact.

The falling part and the waking up part are my most favorite savored bits of joy in a day. To drift off into another state of being, that unconscious, restful labyrinth that unwinds like a secret tunnel and appears out of nowhere, it’s like discovering a portal in the clouds and it’s irresistible. 

Then there’s the part before you rise, when you are not quite aware of the fact that you are becoming aware, and the blankets form around your body and hover over your warm skin like a hollow container molded to fit your exact position. A warm inner shell that one movement or conscious thought could crack, so you must lay still, relish this part until a slice of light cuts across the sheets and it’s over for the day.

It’s in this liminal moment you realize all that tossing and turning the night before was impossibly wasteful. Look how easy it is to be still! Now, being so cozy, it’s inconceivable that you had trouble finding the labyrinth at all. 

But right now I cannot sleep. So instead I dive into a different maze. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s deep and it’s wet. Constructed of open loops and lights that lure you around corners that lead to nowhere, built out of thoughts formed as questions without answers. 

Like a small tear in the leather couch that I should just leave alone. It’s a scuff, really, not even a tear, but a minor scratch. Instead, I pick the one tiny piece that is available for picking and I make damn sure it becomes a tear. The tear becomes a hole, one that I poke and make bigger. My head is in the sofa. What’s back there? My own need to know-ness leads me here, unable to leave it be and driven insane by the possibility that there is something beneath this surface I must uncover.

So I wreck the side of a perfectly good piece of furniture and follow the dark winding paths to various dead ends. Thinking in the dark like this, at a time when sleep would be the only natural thing to be doing, is like driving during rush hour when you’re late for something unimportant, with your eyes closed. It’s urgently unproductive, and pointless, and you should really just turn around and go home. 

And then, sitting in the dark on this leather sofa in the den that I punished for no reason, I learn things.

I learn that the neighbor vacuums (or blow dries her hair?) well after midnight. I learn that the kitchen never really goes to sleep. It stays up all night, too, making mysterious sounds. How does a floor not being walked on creak like that? The cupboards seem to vibrate inconsistently, and I listen to the irregular crackle of metal things in drawers, simply touching each other.

It makes me wish for my own like object to nest with, to lay with; we could be simply touching each other, too. But instead my knees just get stiff from sitting cross-legged in the dark, and the fridge hums a tuneless song. Someone is snoring. Something is ticking. Something is dripping. I’ve missed out on the portal and I’ve gotten left behind; I’m awake.

Other things move about and I can hear them, I just can’t confirm from or to where, and it reminds me of my thoughts: darting around in their own maze, trapped in my mind, preventing me from sleep, racing away from me at the precise moment I might grab onto one and then, along with it, reason. Or better even, sleep.

But nope, my eyes are squinting at a computer screen instead of watching one of those rare movies projected on the soft orange flesh of the back of my eyelids.

My feet are falling asleep though, in a circulatory kind of irony. I crack my knuckles again. I can never remember my dreams anyway. The couch is soft and warm considering it’s leather in a cold room on a rainy night, and I’m feeling like maybe I could lay down and keep my mind quiet just long enough to find that wormhole to slumber. 

But I don’t. I just sit and listen some more, and wonder if the bottle of wine I had for dinner wasn’t enough or was too much. I’d pour myself another glass if I could.

Of course there was nothing behind that tear in the couch. How the mysteries of mid-night hours are improbably solved by a rising sun is a mystery in its own right. But without fail, all those open loops are closed and the dead ends of the mind unlock into freed passageways just as soon as day breaks. 

Still I wonder if that impulse to peel back that tear is a strength or a weakness. Maybe I would like for someone to do the same to me, peel some of it back because they’re too curious and just have to know, have to ask, have to pry, even. I’m sure there’s nothing shocking to find, or interesting even, but just the idea that someone must find out seems like a worthwhile part of love.

Then maybe you would also be able to see that there’s no mystery to solve, no point in staying awake to get lost, and falling asleep would be no problem at all. 

 

I Ran Your Garden Over

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Walking through some nature in the big back woods one recent day, I witnessed the canopy of pine leaves grant the sun permission to enter. That day jabbed at my mind the way the sun did the mud, darting across bits of shade on the rain-soaked path. I chased that ribbon of gold, it so looked warm! And when I reached for it, it fled to land its light on something other than me like a tease.

The crunch of old leaves competed with the fresh smell of the greenest grass; it smelled like spring and looked as free-spirited. But the California drought had made its mark with a right-angled scar carved into the scenery, and I felt small in the grand scheme. 

Back inside, I couldn’t stop staring through the window at your garden. With its perfect rows of lively goods, not wild on their own but growing as your mandate, your edible little army. It felt all stuffed up! Stifled and so unnatural in its forced perfection, all that commanded stillness. The lettuces just sitting there, ripe and open, perfectly, but frozen in time until you say, Ok, Greens! Now! Unleash your leaves, peel it all off, it’s time to enjoy and be enjoyed! Why should they have to wait for you!? What if they’re ready already, or they have things to do? Salads to be a part of, or sandwich bread to lay down on, or what have you. They’re not getting any satisfaction just sitting there in rows, waiting for their purpose, waiting for your word, waiting for you.

I wasn’t as angry as it sounds, but I will admit I was throwing a tantrum; one that requires a driver’s license, so more adult than a toddler but not quite fitting of my age.

You know I’d rather die than be ignored.

So, I uprooted it all, had to strip it down and get dirty. I wanted to do it together, but then suddenly, of course, you were busy. I thought we would harvest this thing, maybe make dinner with the perfect specimens we could pull from the earth; get our hands and bodies all muddied up for the greater good – of us both! But you can be such a moving target, all dressed, all the time.

I guess by now you’ve seen that I ran your garden over. Not just drove through it, but tore through it, with my 4×4 all wheel drive. That means all wheels, all the time, babe. My 315s shot romaine in their wake like a wood chipper, a canon even, with a trajectory so impressive and effortless the leaves flailed through the air like an edible peter pan.

I put your salad shooter to shame with one swift skid. Tomatoes became salsa with a whip of my whip, no need to dice the onions. Your avocados didn’t stand a chance against my knobby tires, which invalidated your chef’s knife, sharp as it may be; you couldn’t have done it better with an eighteen-wheeler. I embarrassed your little food processor, sitting clean on the counter, and you know what? The guacamole has never been fresher.

Plus, I was listening to tunes the whole time. 

Oh the fruits? Glad you asked, little darlin. I pulverized your blackberry bushes so freakin hard that jam would be embarrassed to call itself a purée. 

Donuts and burnouts on root vegetables, bitches flipped over your cruciferous – honestly, I think my skills would have impressed you despite the damage done. Some odd combination of focused Formula One racing and reckless joyriding, my newfound skills vehicularly lifted up produce then rained it down. I cranked a hard right – so much fucking torque! Then it all fell from the sky, acrobatically and in slow motion. From far away you’d have thought it was the vegetable ballet, a real choreographed elegant 10-footer.

Up close it was more like a gameshow wind-tunnel money machine; and no one stands a chance in those. 

The romenesco was impressive, I will say. It stood up to my carnivorous maneuvers like two giant, space titties from Planet Brassica, defying geometry and physics in their approximation to fractals, naturally, with ease, and in the loveliest shade of chartreuse. But the spinach wilted at my approach, destroying itself before I made my next move. Iron deficiency, I guess.

And I could have kept un planting everything with my four wheels until I got to dinosaur bones, but that would have been excessive. The lettuces stuck to the shaft of my vehicle and I felt badly for the worms. I’m not going to replant it alone, but I know that with your green thumb we’ll have no trouble at all bringing it back to life.

I was thinking while we wait for seeds to take root we should probably order some spring rolls and drink a bottle of wine, one at least. The back of a truck might feel more natural than a garden – just imagining its diesel fumes and old vinyl smells perks me right up. 

I don’t like clever food. So, we won’t eat some stupid fried chicken with an egg on it, or cotton candy lit on fire. We’ll have something with dirt stuck to it, overlooking the fringe neighborhoods of LA. Even if that’s just sand in our sandwiches or dust in our salami; we did ride in on our motorcycles.

We need a dirty-ish white wine, too, I have just the thing! We’ll drink it delicately from nice stemware, civilized and all that, but sitting on the ground, fingering the earth, eating something simple, and open-mouth kissing in between. I don’t even mind if you light me up! I know I deserve it. But I’ll take your reprimand over fancy foam reduction any day. 

Maybe we should wash my feet in the sink and then open another bottle…

Sorry about your garden. I didn’t harm the flowers. There’s still some daylight left. We can replant it together.

Let’s start with the strawberries so they’re ready for your birthday in summer. 

Then we’ll eat them in the hammock, we’ll hang it in our garden. 

Supermarkets: A Love Letter

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  photo from the Internet, not taken by me

photo from the Internet, not taken by me

Supermarkets. Are they, though? Such over-promise in the name alone, it’s like they never even had a chance. Fluorescent lights, freezing cold air blowing from invisible vents, piles of unlikely goods neighboring each other as if it were perfectly normal – canned soup next to feminine products?! Super, indeed. 

I know someone paid attention to the fact that wet cardboard and bright lights don’t inspire an appetite, but a cozy, dimly-lit labyrinth swathed in earth tones will do the trick. Still, for as Wholefoodedly as I fall victim to that sort of thing, a place that charges you $4 extra for paper towels that disintegrate if you look at them wrong…I don’t know, it seems like kind of a fake friend to me.

At the regular store, the one that’s open at 1am, pervertedly shiny apples stacked in pyramids remind me of old school Disney movies, and I wonder whether the queen came exactly here to shop for Snow White’s last meal. There’s a billowing, ambient noise you don’t notice right away, like they’re running the whole operation on a generator. Post-apocalyptically. This place would make decorative plastic produce appear more edible. 

Someone should really tell Ralph or Von.

It doesn’t help that I am also a not-super grocery shopper. After going to the farmer’s market for the restaurant a few times, I became a produce expert (self-proclaimed). Work in restaurants long enough with a few good chefs and you’ll know better than to shop anywhere with a checkout aisle and security cameras. If lettuce is marked on sale for .99, I know it must not be real lettuce. Buy tomatoes – NOT ON THE VINE? In March?! Please. 

I’ll take my grocery shopping with a heavy dose of vitamin D thank you, soaking in the sun a mere four blocks from the twinkling sea while I chat with James and snack on his arugula flowers, filling my tote with greens he grew and picked. The scent of the Pacific wafts in from a few blocks west, tickling my cheek in approval, as if to say, you’re doing it! 

If I indulge the fantasy further, I’m cruising along, gathering stone fruit at Fitzgerald’s and small talk at Coleman’s, hopping from farmer to farmer without a single carbon footprint in my path, collecting more than I can carry in my reusable bags.

I’m practically foraging.

On the way home, snacking aggressively on raw broccolini, I’ll hash out a mental diagram of what I will cook when, and how, and for whom. In this daydream (key word), I not only shop exclusively at the farmer’s market twice a week, but I also have people over for dinner regularly. I love the farmer’s market and all of the things it tells me I am. But I can’t always RSVP to the outdoor vegetable social, where the breeze blows your hair and you can molest peaches and avocados to source the perfect fruit. 

It’s a delicious aim, but could not be further from the reality of my generally-managing weekend mornings in the restaurant world. Those certainly didn’t include driving across the sprawling Los Angeles cityscape or braving beach parking on a weekend. 

Sundays were more like: wake up late, as in, sorry-we-stopped-serving-breakfast-sandwiches-two-hours-ago late. I’m bruised and battered from back to back Friday and Saturday night services (the nerve of these days to exist consecutively!). Like actually sore, somehow. A slow walk to get afternoon coffee and enjoy it outside while answering emails, then get in to the restaurant with time enough to start inventory and write the schedule before service. Survive my last service before a final day off. Finish inventory, place beverage orders for the coming week, and rewrite the schedule for the server who frantically emailed me at 10pm because she forgot to request off for her boyfriend’s surprise lobotomy, or what have you. 

Get out early, it’s Sunday. Let the real weekend begin.

I step out of the restaurant, standing in the silent streets of Los Angeles while everyone else is tucked in bed, sleeping and full. I’m starving (an obvious irony, but one that never fails to be true), the perfect combination of exhausted and wired from having had just too much coffee, and awake. So to the supermarket, then.

Partly because it’s open, but also without wanting to admit it, there is a dirty little pleasure in stepping into this grotesque place at such an indelicate hour. The harsh light is more bearable because only half the store is lit; front-loaders move boxes of product and block aisles. Sometimes a few drunk teenagers wander around, and a creepy guy lurks in the canned goods aisle, pretending to read the back of some chili when I walk by. 

But save for the occasional beeping, it’s mostly very quite.

Maybe it’s the contrast to dinner service that’s appealing; a sharp right turn away from chaos and bodies and tickets and sounds crammed into 1200sq feet and my head for hours. A nearly-abandoned goliath of a room filled with sterile rows of things on shelves. It’s cold, which normally I’d despise. But it’s also serene and awkwardly still, almost Hitchcock-esque and profoundly domestic, which hits me as aspirational for some reason. 

With its automatic doors widespread, it lures me into the calm solitude of truck-ripened produce and three whole aisles of frozen foods. I am tempted to pluck the shiniest apple from the bottom of the pyramid and just keep walking, allowing a thousand shiny cousin apples to follow in my wake, tumbling over each other as they chase the dream of poisoning their own fictional princess. 

One late Sunday night visit, I stroll past militantly-aligned cereal boxes and Pepperidge Farm bags, sitting there like old friends smiling up at me from outdated design packages and unpronounceable ingredients. I grab one pack each of English muffins and eggs, and realize then what it is: The supermarket makes softer a transition that, geographically, may only be an eight-minute bike ride or three-minute drive, but is an incalculable distance that spans farther than all of the aisles of all of the food chains, in all of the city, put together. 

After-hours egg sandwiches also really help.