Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving control freaks

Folks love Thanksgiving for a buttload of reasons: family, football, food. I love Thanksgiving because I like to eat myself sick. But as I get older, I realize that for many, it's not about food, it's about control, and not in an awesome Janet Jackson way. Let me explain.
I traveled with my pal to her parents' home for Thanksgiving a few years back. Cousins, siblings, parents, and friends gathered around a perfectly appointed table for a perfectly planned-out meal. This was the kind of house that had enough matching chairs and china for a party of 12.

It was a little schmancy for me but I wasn't going to complain because, hey, stuffing! And I was too busy trying to figure out which fork to use for the mâche with satsuma and crystallized pansies. I helped serve the turkey, which had been carved offsite in the kitchen, and was gently admonished to serve from each person's left.

Well, at least I hadn't spilled anything…yet.

All this was fine, as my discomfort was about to be alleviated by dessert. One of the cousins brought a scrumptious apple pie and I couldn't wait to tuck into it, perhaps with a cup of coffee. 

Then time stopped.

The lovely, albeit tightly-wound, hostess appeared in the doorway holding a Le Creuset casserole dish. Poached. Pears. In. Port.

It was at this moment that I climbed back down the social ladder and stepped onto the firm ground of the lower middle class. I may not have money, but I do have taste. Thanksgiving dessert should involve pie, cake, crisp, cobbler, cookies, mousse, brûlée, ice cream, or some combination thereof. It should never ever consist solely of baked fruit in fortified wine. There were children at the table, for the love of Myles Standish.

Where was the pie, you ask?

Good question. I found it later, squirreled away on top of the fridge. My only saving grace is that it tasted amazing at 11pm with a cold glass of milk under the cover of darkness. This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful that while I veer into the land of the obsessive-compulsive, I'm generous enough to allow other people to bring things to the table, be it a talent, an idea, or a pie. If someone asks if they can bring something to dinner, say yes. While Thanksgiving often means cock-blocking the kitchen for many hosts and hostesses, it should be about abundance and generosity. Sure, that shot-in-the-ass green bean casserole might not pair well with your sav blanc, but someone made it out of tradition and/or love so pass the dish to your neighbor and reach for your ramekin of emmentaler gratin instead.

For the record, this year I'm making salted caramel pie and a fruit crisp. In recent years, I've made this sweet potato cheesecake from Kingfish Cafe, which is always a big hit. 

(photo: taylor.pt) 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Unrealistic holiday gift guides

My last name is Worick, not Warbucks.

With that in mind, I'm exasperated each holiday season when the gift guides start appearing in magazines, catalogs and websites. I love the concept of a guide of the season's best picks for everyone on your list (I've even written a few myself). Thing is, my list doesn't include Kate Middleton or Oprah. Throughout the recession, I've expected to see dialed-down gift ideas, presents you can buy on the cheap or even make. Instead, we get suggestions like this, featured in the November issue of Lucky: "Brit designer Charlotte Olympia's cheeky little cat flats strike the perfect balance between playful and posh."

These shoes retail for $895.

Call me catty, but who is buying these shoes, for themselves or as gifts? When a gift guide recommends keeping bottles of Dom or a case of $60 Diptyque candles on hand to give to a hostess or letter carrier, I wonder who gifted the editor with a box of delusion?

Then there's the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. For a cool $250,000, you can buy a dinner party for ten prepared by Chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Jerome Bocuse, and Richard Rosendale. What's a quarter of a mill for an unforgettable evening and a Christmas gift a loved one is sure to appreciate? I mean, who needs to retire, really? Tap that 401K and get your Bocuse d'Or on.

When I read these far-fetched gift guides, I'm constantly reminded of my anemic bank account and what a loser I clearly am (always an awesome attitude with which to enter suicide season, fa la la). I may be delusional myself, but I don't think most families are rocking a five- or six-figure budget for their Christmas list.

Until there are more articles like Real Simple's "50 Gifts Under $50," I'm going to scare up a French Laundry Cookbook or make salted caramels for the lucky ones on my list. Let's hope they appreciate the sentiment, if not the cents, behind the gift.

(photo: Neiman Marcus Christmas Book)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Powell's Punch Party tomorrow night!

I'm headed south tomorrow, hitting the seriously awesome Powell's City of Books for a Punch Party. I'll be at the Beaverton store (which is at Cedar Hills Crossing) at 7pm and will be talking about the book, reading favorite entries, hopefully laughing my arse off at others' rants, and hosting a spirited game of Punch in the Face vs Make Out With. It's the last official Punch Party of the fall and I hope to see all of my PDX peeps. As I've said before, something magical happens around this book. People open up and connect as they share common gripes. Like this blog and the book, it makes me seriously happy. 

This is a book that brings people together. Come together tomorrow night!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Guest punch: Amazon.com

This punch was read at a recent Punch Party. It's written by a former Amazon employee who prefers to remain anonymous, as Amazon has been known to be mad vindictive.

As we enter Q4, that all-too-important time period that can make or break retailers and determine their worth to investors, I would like to step out from behind my laptop and punch Amazon.com in the face. 

As a former Amazon employee who has also spent a few dozen hours and hundreds if not thousands of my hard-earned dollars with them, I feel obligated to remind us all why, during this ho ho holiday season, we should boycott Amazon.

I’m not sure when I began to hate Amazon. Was it when, on my second day of work as a marketing contact for publishing houses, they handed me a Powerpoint called “the Cheetah and the Gazelle” and asked me to “take down” the publishers by asking them to spend more of THEIR hard-earned money with Amazon?

Or maybe it was when at least half of the independent bookstores in the country went out of business when they couldn’t offer their hardcover bestsellers at 30-percent off? Hmmm, I wonder what discount Amazon received vs. oh, say, Queen Anne Books [editor's note: QAB closed its doors on Oct. 31]? Or perhaps Amazon was able to sell books at a loss as long as you filled your shopping cart with needless items in order to get free shipping. Oh wait! I think it was last Christmas when Amazon faced backlash from small businesses for running a one-day deal to promote its new Price Check app. Shoppers who used the app to check prices in a brick-and-mortar store were offered a 5-percent discount to purchase the same item from Amazon.

Oh Amazon! You make it so hard to not buy from you with your free shipping and endless ‘tail,’ i.e. selection. Even when I try to buy from an independent retailer or dotcom, whoops! There you go, snatching them up because you couldn’t merely allow yourself some friendly competition. You needed to take them down and OWN them, obliterating our retail choices. Nice kitty… (As an aside, if you think you’re buying shoes from Zappos, think again. Amazon! ShopBop? Amazon. And Quidsi, the company that Amazon bought in 2010? It runs the sites Diapers.com, Wag.com, and YoYo.com.

) And it's not even that you don’t play fair, it's that you wield your power to further your own cause, even when it hurts others.

And Jeff Bezos, would it KILL you to give some money to the community in which you live? Must you choose not to donate any funds and in fact, not even pay taxes to the states in which you do business? How crafty you are at saving us—and yourself—money.

So remember, you CAN vote with your dollars. You CAN choose good vs. evil. You CAN send a message to Amazon by choosing to shop locally and giving the money to those who deserve it—your local shopkeepers, your neighbors, your friends, your city.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Blow Pops

Rifling through my Halloween candy got me to thinking about what sweet treats have been a party in my mouth and what candy needs to be kicked to the curb.
I'll always break for the 100 Grand Bar, Milk Duds, a Tootsie Pop, M&Ms, and an Almond Joy.

But I have no patience for the wastes of space that are Jujubes, Dum Dums, Three Musketeers, Skittles and the aptly named Blow Pop.

Much like cross-pollinated food, Blow Pops are the Frankenstein of candy and decidedly NOT greater than the sum of its parts.

Back in the day, I couldn't wait to go to my brothers' Little League games. The concessions table fucking rocked. Pixy Stix, candy bars, Double Bubble, suckers. With all these choices, I reached for a Blow Pop. In its festive wrapper and promise of two candies in one, my 7-year-old self was powerless to resist.

As I popped it into my mouth, everything was initially a-okay. But as I wore away the candy shell, it collapsed into the bubble gum center.

Blow me.

While I always enjoyed peanut butter in my chocolate, I didn't like shards of hard candy comingling with my gum. The two textures were confusing to my young palate and left me wishing my lollipop would pick a lane. A Blow Pop is my personal cautionary tale to dial back the greedy. I mean, look what happened to all those grubby-fingered little punks who visited Willy Wonka's factory.

Less is more.

(photo: stanton-grade-three.blogspot.com)