Feeding the Spirit at Soif

I discovered Soif Wine Bar & Merchants at the end of one of Those Weeks. Kid One was too sick to go to school, but well enough to want to make things. Like marble-and-wire wizard rings and dried apple mandrake heads from a wizard how-to book Grandma got him for his last birthday. Kid Two was sick, too, but well enough to rub clay-dough into the rug and blame it on his brother. Errands and chores multiplied at dizzying speed; on top of the usual dry cleaning, shoes needed repair, and the broken washing machine wouldn’t be fixed for a week. LL’s birthday was coming up, and the Kids had lots of ideas for presents to make, all involving many stops all over town for supplies. We survived on soup and toast for days. I was running out of inspiration for interesting and tasty meals. My usual high spirits were running low.

“Let’s go out to dinner Saturday night,” LL suggested. “I got a sitter, so think of where you want to go.” Well, I wanted different. I wanted to be amazed. Someone had recently told me about the tapas bars in Spain, and I loved the idea of going from one eatery to another, sampling the best food each has to offer, and of making a meal of these small plates of food, neither appetizer nor entree. I wanted to be satisfied, not necessarily full. I just had no idea where to find it.

After a movie downtown, we took a serendipitous turn down Walnut Avenue and found Soif. A first glance in the windows looked a bit like a gentleman’s club with its black and brown and wood décor, instead of antlers, however, gnarled ten year old grapevine trunks guarded the tables. Someone here had a sense of humor, and we had to go in.

Just inside the front door, aromas of fresh bread, garlic, and olive oil filled my head. It just smelled so, so good and clean and welcoming. Perfect lighting was bright enough to read the menu, yet dim enough to look good. I was already surprised and happy, and we hadn’t even started our meal.

Settling back in a bench against the terracotta wall, I realized my dream of finding something akin to a tapas bar. The bill of fare was called the “Menu of Small Plates,” a wine suggestion paired with each item. I was energized just from reading it, and like a child in a candy store, I started tasting almost everything they had to offer.

Sweet, juicy tomatoes with creamy fresh mozzarella, my favorite salad, is great all the time. Creamy, buttery pumpkin soup still had bits of crushed pumpkin seed as a testament to its freshness. Cold caramelized onion marmalade topped crunchy crostini. Fresh spinach was barely wilted in the peppery al dente risotto. The piece de resistance, however, was prosciutto-wrapped figs and grapes, seared over a flame so that the ham is hot and crispy, served with mixed lettuces and balsamic dressing. Absolutely fantastic. The first bite was thrilling – sweet, creamy figs; crisp, salty prosciutto; the tart balsamic – every taste bud woke up and danced. I was, indeed, surprised, amazed, and inspired. Soif succeeded fueling my depleted spirits. That Week had officially ended.

As an at-home mother with two young children, much of my life is about food. I plan and make three, four, sometimes five meals a day, balancing nutrients, sneaking new foods in with the tried and true. I forget that eating is about more than just figuring out how to pack enough protein in a lunch box to keeping the kids from complaining about being hungry.

So the next time any of you have one of Those Weeks, be sure to make the time to turn down a different street or walk into a new door. Sit down for a few minutes and partake in something as simple as a great cup of coffee or as intricate as a prosciutto-wrapped fig. Real sustenance fuels us through the chores and the errands, the hassles at the office, and the clamor of children at your feet; once the calories have been spent, the memory lingers on.

This piece was originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel sometime in 2004. I’m happy to have found it in my archives and be able to post it now that the Kids are young adults and these particular challenging times are behind me, and particularly thankful for the reminders of the memories we all made and shared. And honestly, I don’t remember my spirits ever running low, and I’m just not sure who that babysitter was!

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