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My Christmas at Marilyn’s


There were only 5 of us at the Christmas table, not counting various kids who were on the computer and a 13 year old who piloted a foot stool all around the house as if it were a hobby horse. But it was festive. After all kinds of appetizers–cashews, salami, cheese, crackers–Marilyn served her own homemade honey baked ham, with stewed fruits, oven roasted squashes and potatoes, and a salad of bitter greens, candied pecans and feta cheese which she criticized but that everyone else seemed to enjoy. She’d bought a gigantic chocolate layer cake for dessert, bedizened or should I say festooned with candy canes, sugary elves, garish Santas and little reindeer (FD&C red dye #40), which really added insult to the injury after all the food; and when everyone had ate their fill, and half of the cake was still left over, Marilyn tried to convince someone, anyone, to please bring it home with them. No takers.

Wines? We kept it simple. I brought along a bottle of JCB non-vintage Brut Rosé, a great buy for only $20, rich, delicious and clean. Everybody liked it, even Marilyn’s son and daughter-in-law, who profess to dislike sparkling wine. They made such a fuss over it that the teenaged kids asked for a sip, which they duly received–a tiny one. I personally think our drinking age laws are anachronistic. I do recognize we can’t just let kids drink alcohol anytime they feel like it, but surely we can respect the European tradition of letting them have a little, at the table, in the company of civilized adults, so they don’t end up thinking drinking is just for getting smashed.

What else did we drink? I also brought a bottle of Jarvis 2006 Estate Cabernet. Now that, my friends, is a helluva wine. I don’t know if Jarvis routinely appears on the list of Napa Valley “cult” Cabs. I myself have never prepared such a list, although I suppose if I had to, I could. But I’d be embarrassed; such a silly, pandering thing to do. Anyway I brought the Jarvis, even though I knew it wasn’t the ideal wine for the ham (which Marilyn had told me beforehand was the main dish), because I like for people to love the wines I bring, and I knew that everybody would adore that wine. And they did.

We had a couple Pinot Noirs, and a bottle of Chardonnay, and lots of sparkling water. Marilyn’s brother, Bud, who would be the first to admit he’s not a wine guy but likes to drink anyway, bought a bottle of Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc, which he drank on the rocks. Lest you think dinner with Steve necessarily implies wine snobbery of the highest order, keep that image in mind!

When everyone had gone home, Marilyn and I watched the 2008 documentary, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. (He’d been a favorite of mine from way back in the day, and I like to think the New Journalism he helped to inspire has had its influence on my writing in this blog.) The dogs cuddled up with us, little Annie with Marilyn, her mommy, Gus with me, and Maisie, Marilyn’s big, goofy Golden Lab, curled up snoring by the fireplace. It was cold in Pacifica, and the fog was rolling in as thick as mashed potatoes, but inside it was toasty warm and peaceful, as Christmas evenings should be.

Food Network chef smackdown: Bourdain v.s Deen


There’s a hissy fit going on in celebrity chef TV land that makes the occasional sparring between wine bloggers seem like a love-in. Seems that Anthony Bourdain gave an interview to TV Guide, in which he called Paula Deen “The worst, most dangerous person [in] America,” accused her of having “unholy connections with evil corporations” and, as if that’s not enough, added the ultimate putdown for a chef: “her food is f—ing bad for you.”

Then Anthony told us what he really thinks about the Food Network’s Guy Fieri. “I look at Guy Fieri and I just think, ‘Jesus, I’m glad that’s not me.’” But wait, there’s more! Anthony on Rachel Ray: “Does she even cook anymore? I don’t know why she bothers.” And, last but not least, the Bourdman on Sandra Lee, also a Food Network star (whose boyfriend happens to be Andrew Cuomo, the Governator of New York). “Don’t mess with her…I hate her works on this planet…”.


It didn’t take long for Frank Bruni to get his two cents in. The New York Times’ restaurant critic slammed Anthony for his “gratuitous schoolyard-crass putdown[s]” and accused him of  “moralizing and snobbery,” because he [Anthony] is a “self-appointed sophisticate” who thinks the Food Network cooks are “rubes.”

The whole thing is funny. For once, I’m glad I’m not involved. Been there, done that. But it does raise important issues, since obesity is a huge [no pun intended] problem in the U.S. Anthony is essentially saying the Food Network is the television version of a greasyspoon diner whose cooks show an already fat nation how to get even fatter. Whereas he, Anthony, is more of an Alice Waters kind of guy–eat healthy and green. There’s certainly truth to that. The main problem, of course, with Anthony’s elitism (if we can call it that) is that it costs more–a lot more–to eat along an Alice Waters’ line than to eat Paula Deen’s bacon cheeseburgers between two donuts. That was the essence of Frank Bruni’s criticism of Anthony–that Anthony was insensitive to poor people. (Incidentally, Anthony kinda-sorta apologized to poor Paula yesterday in this radio interview. Also yesterday, Paula Deen, who seems like a real nice southern lady to me, finally fired back at Anthony. He “needs to get a life,” she told the New York Post’s Page Six.)

Well, there is a split between the Whole Foods crowd and the Penny Saver shoppers when it comes to food, and we have the same kind of split here in the wine industry. It’s only to be expected, because we have that split in America with any consumable good. If you’re a Paula Deen person, you drive a Chevy or a Ford pickup. If you’re an Anthony Bourdain person, you drive a BMW, or maybe a Prius. Rachel Ray’s people drink Two Buck Chuck; Anthony’s look to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s just the way it is–but at least we in the wine biz don’t get down in the mud like Anthony did. We’re much too civilized for that!

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