If you missed reading a post from me over Thanksgiving weekend, thank you. There wasn’t one, but make no assumptions about why; I wasn’t napping, strung out from family, or slouching in front of the TV in any turkey or revelry hangover. In fact, this week’s blog has been a two-week endeavor; and last weekend, rather than Coors Lights and football or binge watching the second season of Ted Lasso, I was creatively focused in preparations for a fancy dinner with my wonderful Spanish wine friend and kitchen partner in crime, Patrick Mata. Patrick is like a younger sibling (not “nephew” which he discovered unfortunately through my sudden spew of one of his fine wines while he was introducing me to his friend at a soft opening of a fancy NYC restaurant). Each year, to benefit the organization where I work at our annual fundraising gala, Patrick generously donates beautiful boutique wines, pairing expertise, and his creative cooking inspiration, working with me to offer a six course paella dinner for 10 for our silent auction. It’s gotten quite popular, and we always have “the time of our lives” putting together “the best dinner ever” for the lucky winners. This year, we were thrilled with the inspiration that transpired as we planned it all out over a finely aged Burgundy from his high-end cellar on a Friday afternoon the week before Thanksgiving; and our fabulous dinner was last Saturday night.
Certainly, the planned menu of beautiful unique wines paired with courses of avocado paste with paddlefish caviar, foie gras on apple crisps, oysters prepared three ways, vichyssoise with lobster, “the best paella ever,” and a never-imagined dessert would have itself offered an incredible, above-and-beyond, unlikely-to-be-forgotten food and wine evening. But the inspirational muse that surfaced as we free-styled in the kitchen after the menu had already been printed inspired the unexpected theme that characterized the meal … and, at least in my opinion, offers one of life’s most important wisdoms. … And while the theme was already evident in the first course, and accentuated more deeply in the second with a last minute inspiration for a created on the spot honey-sweetened pickle relish donning the foie gras (literally as we were plating), Patrick put it all out there perfectly into words during the oyster course.
“In tonight’s menu we are highlighting contrasts, which is not so common in wine pairings. Oftentimes wines are selected for an ability to compliment or accentuate the taste of the food. A wine can highlight, emphasize, and even make the flavor of the dish pop. But some of tonight’s selections take a different approach, drawing attention to flavors through opposites. Like the sweet relish on the foie gras, accentuating the flavor through contrast. For this course of oysters in three ways, one raw with a drop of lemon, the next with creme fraiche and caviar in a manner the French call ‘a La Russe,’ and the third, a cooked Oyster Rockefeller, we selected a basque wine, Berroia, which is known for its salinity and its qualities of a wine grown near the sea, to highlight those same qualities in the oysters. It is a perfect wine for this course. But I have also brought a second wine so that we will try as something different. In addition to the Berroia, we will try Oremus, which is a sweet wine. Most people think of sweet wines for dessert only. But we are challenging why dessert can’t happen with dinner. And I think this wine will also work perfectly with the oysters. Observe the sweetness of this special wine against the salinity. The contrast is fulfilling and brings depth. Wine is like life, and life is contrasts.”
I chuckled to myself, “Wow, Patrick, it’s almost as if – if i didn’t know you better – you’ve been reading my blog. You might as well have written my next post.”
It’s taken me a lifetime, one marked by suffering – and joy, to come to appreciate the wisdom represented in the culinary inspiration in our fabulous dinner and Patrick’s perfect explanation of the Oremus and oyster pairing. Metaphorically, actually almost literally, it epitomizes the very real and practical journey to my own satisfaction and peace. So much of my life has been spent like the more typical oyster pairing, emphasizing the briny saltiness with salinity-forward Spanish Albarinos or minerally New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, rejecting the premise that a happy sweetness can coexist alongside life’s sad salty tears … a lifetime perseverating on salinity, everything wrong, accentuating with complimentary mineral-forward “what if’s” and “if onlys,” while dismissing and resisting the good and the happy that were co-occurring alongside.
Only recently, beginning in those darkest depths after Adam’s death, have I gained a greater appreciation for contrasts (like my pink pashmina scarf over the black dress at his funeral), and a more deliberate and focused awareness of them (noting with a smile of gratitude Jude’s, “Have a good day, Mom. I love you” as he gets out of my car on report card day). Ironically, as I shared in my post two weeks ago, the recollection of the special and joyful moments are easy to call to mind and return to, and I don’t even really remember all the details of the dismal, yet so much more time and emotion was spent focused on them in the moment. Similar to my mom’s recent (or at least kept private until recent) discovery that eating dessert first is actually fine and doesn’t spoil your appetite or negate your appreciation of the meal (contrast-rich salted caramels no less), I’ve learned that the increased attention to what’s right, good, and happy does not negate the sad and hard, but it balances it. It’s not a form of denial, or fake, but more like the lightly pickled assortment of veggies I snuck in alongside the strong-flavored and starch-heavy paella, adding a refreshing new dimension, and greater fulfillment. Honestly, just like those veggies on the paella (Patrick!), it just makes so much sense.
… I can’t help but wonder how much of life’s sweet (even gluttonous) late harvest bounty I may have failed to notice, acknowledge, and appreciate in such narrowly-focused, heavily-mineraled, salty-tears-forward, woe-is-me awareness? Here’s to sweet AND salty! Albarinos and Oremus!
Today’s blog is dedicated to Patrick’s mom, Christianne Mata, whose recipes and talents have inspired all of the kitchen fun and wonderful preparations that Patrick and I have enjoyed creating together. Chrisianne’s untimely passing in August 2022, after a long, courageous, and graceful battle, was contrasted by last cherished moments and the memories of her introduction to Patrick’s first child and beautiful new daughter, Carolina, just days before she made her journey to Heaven.