Want to party like it’s 1999 (or probably more 1995-ish)? Break out the chokers and the hemp bracelets, the gauzy baby doll dresses paired with your toughest Doc Martins or your widest raver jeans, grab yourself a Zima, and let’s dive face-first into this Spinach & Artichoke Dip. Remember the ’90s are back – so not only is it wonderfully nostalgic to revisit the trends of your (or at least my) youth, but it’s also considered fashionable. A simpler time when our biggest environmental worries were the ozone layer… and massive oil spills… and the destruction of the rainforest…
Recently I re-read the book Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The author is a Shaker Heights High graduate, who has also set the book in Shaker Heights, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland), during the mid-to-late nineties; drawing upon her own experiences, which were also large-in-part my own.
The setting of the book is wonderfully familiar – mentioning the grocery store Heinens, at which my mother has shopped for the better part of 40 years, the Chinese restaurant Pearl of the Orient (oh, that shrimp and snow peas dish I always ordered!) and Draegers Ice Cream Shop (two words: hot fudge…). The first time I read it, it was like going back home; both in time and space. The second time, even more nuanced memories bubbled to the surface.
Some of the best memories from those years were simply a result of just trying to fill time and find a place we were allowed to linger. One thing most teenagers have in common is that there aren’t many public places to hang out. Too young for bars, too old for playdates; where to go? On Cleveland’s Eastside in the ’90s: Chuck’s Diner, Dennys, Arabica Coffee House, or TGI Fridays were the standard options, provided you had some money to spend.
We squished ourselves around the largest booth possible because somehow there were never fewer than a million of us traveling together in a pack. We took care to order as little as possible without risking getting kicked out, so as not to waste our hard-earned babysitting or lifeguarding money. We stayed around those bare tables but full booths until curfews were just a scant few minutes away. When it came time to actually order something, Spinach and Artichoke Dip was always top of the list.
This dip served as a witness for heated debates about mix-tape playlist orders, teenage dating advice, professed undying love for Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, Dave Matthews Band (later revoked in college years) this new band called Phish (like ‘fish’ but with a ‘ph’ because they’re so cool!) and discussions of where in the world we would all run to when we turned 18 and could leave.
I never knew how truly dated this dip was until I made it for a recent book club gathering here in the UK. Turns out this dip is about as Ohio circa 1997 as you could possibly get. It gave me that much more pleasure to share it.
This time around I’ve added a New Mexican twist with some Hatch green chiles (spelled intensionally this way in NM). Nirvana (90’s pun intended), reached.