Monday, November 19, 2012

$3 Wine, $8 Sauce: A Thanksgiving Tale

This post has nothing to do with writing, or Thanksgiving for that matter. But with my favorite holiday almost upon us, and since I don't really have anything writerly to blog about today, here's a story about food.

I’m a bit preoccupied with how much food costs. I think this comes from being a grad student and having two conflicting desires: the desire to eat things that are cheap, and the desire to eat things that are good for me.

If any of you are patrons of Walmart (I go there every once in a while, lured by the siren call of their Everyday Low Prices), you may be familiar with Oak Leaf wine, which costs $2.97 a bottle. $2.97. It’s a bottle of wine…for $3. Less than $3.

The first time I had Oak Leaf, I think I was already a little tipsy, so I didn’t pick up on an important fact, which is that the stuff is legitimately toxic. It tastes the way I imagine a mixture of urine and Lysol would. My dog won’t even touch it. And she loves wine.

I once bought a bottle of the Chardonnay to help me through a final paper. I couldn’t even finish one glass. Over the next few weeks, I tried to cook with it, flush wounds with it, offered it to friends, tried drinking it on nights I was so depressed I convinced myself I only deserved $3 wine…and finally I had to pour it down the sink.

But every time I go to Walmart, I have to stop myself from buying a bottle. Because it’s only $2.97. Can I afford not to drink it?

I’ve started texting good friend MC Blackman when I’m faced with the temptation, and once she reminds me You get what you pay for, I’m usually fine.

The other day I was in the pasta aisle at SuperTarget to get some sauce. I headed for my usual Ragu, and on the way I passed a jar of sauce that cost $8.

The jar wasn’t any bigger than a jar of Ragu, which costs $1.52. Was the price a mistake? What the hell could be in a jar of tomato sauce that would make it worth $8?

I picked it up and checked the ingredients. What was so incredible about it, I discovered, was that it was made from tomatoes. Not tomato paste and water, but actual tomatoes, imported from Italy. I put it back on the shelf and shook my head, wondering who would be stupid enough to pay $8 for sauce.

I picked up the Ragu. My arm was halfway to the cart when I stopped. Looked at the ingredients. Tomato paste. Water. Sugar. “Natural flavoring.” I set it back on the shelf and stood there, casting glances at the $8 sauce.

Do not, I told myself, Do not attempt to find out what makes that sauce cost $8 by buying a jar of it.

I texted MC. It probably tastes a lot like the $1.52 sauce, she replied.

But what if it didn’t? What if it tasted so good, so fresh, so real, that I had some kind of transcendent experience when I ate spaghetti? How would I know unless I tried it?

I mean, what did MC always say? You get what you pay for.

I looked at the Ragu. What the hell is sodium benzoate anyway? You know what $8 sauce is made of? Fucking tomatoes.

I grabbed a jar of $8 sauce and put it in my cart. That was three bottles of Oak Leaf I’d just have to refrain from buying in the future. I checked out and went home.

I had some gnocchi I was sure would taste good slathered in $8 sauce. I opened the sauce jar and sniffed. It smelled delicious. I only had one clean pot, so I figured I'd cook the gnocchi first, then do the sauce in the same pot. I set the lid back on the jar, not bothering to screw it on, and got out the gnocchi.

Once the gnocchi was cooked and on a plate, I rinsed the pot and put it back on the stove. Then I picked up the jar of sauce and gave it a good shake to mix it up.

Suddenly, sauce was everywhere. On me. On my floor. On the wall behind me. I stood there, dripping marinara, and watched as my dog came over and started licking the sauce puddle off the floor. When she was done, she walked over to me—I was still frozen—and licked my pants.

“That cost eight dollars,” I whispered to her.

Professor Anne thinks $8 sauce is delicious. She also thinks dead squirrels are delicious, gum wrappers, Bluetooths, and hefty helpings of sofa.

There was enough $8 sauce left in the jar to have a little on my gnocchi. And yeah, it was good. I’d pay 5.50 for it, I texted MC.

To which the ever-wise MC replied: You already paid eight.

Happy Thanksgiving.


  1. I don't know what I'd do if pasta sauce went everywhere. I think it would depend on how overwhelmed I was feeling that day. I'd probably either laugh or cry :)

    I don't buy pasta sauce...I make it. I'm in the process of planting the tomato plants to aid in said pasta sauce (I live at the bottom of the plantet, so it is the right time to do such things :)

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. See, now there's a perfect way for me to have pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes without paying $8--make it! If I could figure out how to make anything grow, I would. I love plants...if other people are taking care of them.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Bwahaha! Oh that is awesome. I do not miss the day of impoverished studenthood at all...

    Do you guys have cleanskin wines? It's the surplus stuff from the wineries, that's just labeled as the type and the location, not the brand. So it could either be really really good, or just okay. (I refuse to use the term "bad" for wine. There is no such thing. If you can keep it down, it's "okay"). Cleanskins can start at about $2 a bottle. That's CHEAPER THAN MILK. And when wine is cheaper than milk, we are truly living in the promised times.

  4. HOLY CRAP!! If I found $2 wine there'd be no hope. I don't think we have cleanskins. Unless I just don't know where to buy them...

    I didn't think there was bad wine either until I tried the Oak Leaf chardonnay. I used to brag about how I'd drink any wine--from a jug, from a box, it didn't matter. But Oak Leaf blows.

    Except...I haven't tried their zinfandel. What if that one's "okay?" How will I know unless I go buy a bottle? IT'S ONLY $3.

    1. $3 a bottle is so cheap that it's practically a crime against fiscal responsibility NOT to buy it. By not trying it, it's like stealing from yourself.

    2. Well I'm certainly not going to become a thief.