Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

I Solve Your Holiday Shopping Dilemmas

December 2, 2010

Overpriced three-piece tool set.The Sharper Image 3-Piece Tool Set.

Do something or other with this stylish 3-piece tool set. Includes three people who’ve purchased items from The Sharper Image. Only $259.99!


GOOD GOD, DON’T EAT THAT! – Thanksgiving Leftover Edition

November 29, 2010

Since I’ve occasionally used this space to write about Frankenstein-like food concoctions I’ve created that would frighten Rachel Ray, I’ve been thinking it might be time to start a catchily-titled series of on-again, off-again posts about off-kilter, improvised recipes I’ve come up with — maybe something like, GOOD GOD, DON’T EAT THAT!

This installment of GOOD GOD, DON’T EAT THAT! revolves around a typical Thanksgiving dinner leftover: herbed potatoes. You know the kind; potatoes are cut up into small pieces, mixed with a blend of oil and herbs, and baked in the oven. Normal people will typically use red potatoes to do this.

However, we had Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house this year, and my parents don’t qualify as “normal people.” They know less about cooking than I do. My mom’s favorite food is boiled chicken. That’s right, plain boiled chicken. For seasoning, there might or might not be a stray bullion cube casually tossed into the water. One year for my birthday, I got to feast upon an unrisen orange cake. Then there was the Christmas my mom made sugar cookies and forgot to add the sugar. That one worked out okay, though, because my sister had a very bad cold at the time, so we just fed all of them to her since she couldn’t taste anything. She didn’t know their flavor was practically inedible until after she’d eaten all of them. I won’t go into details about The Great Scone Incident of 1981, other than to say that it explains the origin of the mysterious dent in the kitchen floor of their old house. My dad used to try to make something he called “snowballs” during the holidays, except they ended up looking like underwater mines and managed to suck all the moisture out of your mouth in addition to being totally devoid of flavor.

Anyway, the potatoes they baked this Thanksgiving were a mix of red potatoes, white potatoes, yellow potatoes and sweet potatoes. None of these — especially not the sweet potatoes — cook at the same rate. So, some of the potato chunks were a little al dente while others had turned to paste. Also, the herb dressing the potatoes received was a little unorthodox. My parents had purchased some fresh tarragon to use for the potatoes, because that’s what they heard you’re supposed to use. They didn’t use the tarragon, however, because, according to my mom, “It smelled kind of funny, like it was going bad.” It turns out the smell my mom interpreted as rancid was actually the smell of fresh tarragon.

At any rate, at the end of the day we were given a vat of the oddly un-herbed “herbed” potato leftovers to take home. They sat in the fridge until this afternoon, when I decided I’d better use them up. Since they were a little weird to begin with, heating them up in the microwave didn’t seem like the best option. Plus, I had about half of a leftover onion in the fridge, as well as a few corn tortillas that were nearing their expiration date, so I decided to combine all of them.

The potatoes were already herbed and oiled, but I added more olive oil to the pan for the onion. Once it was hot, I added the potatoes and onion and let them sauté/fry for a while. When they were done, I put them into a bowl with some shredded cheddar cheese and let the cheese melt. Then I added the corn tortillas, one at a time to the still-greasy pan, and spooned the potato and onion mixture into them and let them cook some more (and absorb more oil in the process). To each of the “tacos,” I then added a little bit of Tabasco Sauce, quite a bit of ranch dressing, and a shred of romaine lettuce.

The result was like a mutant offering to the Gods of Taco Bell. I’ve convinced myself that these inbred tacos aren’t as horrifically unhealthy as they certainly are, because:

  1. I added olive oil to the already oiled potatoes. That’s healthy, right?
  2. Corn tortillas are whole grain, which everybody knows has fiber and crap.
  3. Romaine lettuce is supposed to have vitamins and shiznit.
  4. I used fat free ranch dressing, which we all know makes it totally okay. Actually, I purchased the fat free variety by accident, but that’s neither here nor there.
  5. The potato mixture contained sweet potatoes, which according to all the latest dietary research are supposed to be able to summon Jesus or something.

The result ended up tasting surprisingly good, although the kids refused to touch them. Unlike me, they know better.

Adventures In Lousy Parenting

December 24, 2009

The two year-old and I are fencing with empty wrapping paper rolls. I’ve taught him to say, “En garde!

Mythbusting Time

November 12, 2009

It’s time for a preemptive strike, since I’ve already seen this latest load of B.S. beginning to make the rounds on Facebook. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the annual “War on Christmas” rite of hyperventilation kicks in, and when it does some will start shouting to the hills that the Obama White House has renamed the White House Christmas Tree and is now calling it the White House Holiday Tree instead.

The problem is it isn’t true. Anyone who says it is has fallen for an Internet hoax. That’s right, it’s totally made up. It is still, in fact, being called a Christmas Tree, and there has been no attempt to rename it.

Actually, if you want to get technical and insist on calling things by their proper names, Christmas trees, such as the one at the White House, really ought to be called Yule trees instead, but I really don’t see that catching on in any truly widespread fashion anytime soon. Personally, I’d love to see the White House rename it the “Hanukkah Bush,” or something really obscure like “Ygdrasil,” but I don’t see those happening anytime soon, either.

Maybe this fake renaming of the White House Christmas tree flap isn’t such a bad thing. Just think of the possibilities that could come of renaming the tree. It could help make a small dent in the deficit if we sold the naming rights to the tree. After all, that’s a very American thing to do. Imagine: “Weyerhaeuser Presents The Glidden White Maxwell House Christmas Tree Hill,” or the “Stihl Chainsaws White House Ygdrasil.” You could so thoroughly decorate it in the corporate logos of paying sponsors that you could enter the tree in a NASCAR race and nobody would notice. Think of all the money it could raise. Isn’t that what the season’s all about for most of us anyway?

Fun With Toy Packaging

December 30, 2008

And now, an update to the last paragraph of two posts ago:

I finally succeeded today in freeing the kid’s talking globe from the last bit of box that clung tenaciously to it.

In the process, I broke the handle off a pair of scissors, and I ended up resorting to a pair of aviation tin snips to finish the job.

Our Kid Has Strange Taste Buds

December 29, 2008
Garfield the cat eats lasagna in much the same manner as our kid eats capers.

Garfield the cat eats lasagna in much the same manner as our kid eats capers.

My wife and I have noticed for a while that our toddler has some unusual tastes in food. In many cases, we’re not sure where he got them from. Put a bunch of capers in front of him, and he’ll suddenly look like Garfield eating lasagna. Ditto for kalamata olives, curry dishes, Mexican-style black beans and rice, pickles, refried beans mixed with imported Mexican picante sauce, jamaican jerk black beans and rice, New Orleans red beans and rice, jambalaya, papayas, palak paneer with naan, and many other things that escape my mind right now.

Yesterday night, at a holiday dinner with my parents and my mother’s parents, we discovered another unusual food that he loves. Liking this one definitely runs in the family, even if it has completely skipped a generation: mincemeat pies.

My sister and I hate mincemeat, along with anything that serves as a vessel for it. For much of the rest of the family, though, it’s a different story. My mother grew up splitting time between the United States during the school year and England during many summers, and my grandmother is originally from outside Manchester, having come over to the U.S. after meeting my grandfather during World War II. A good chunk of my mother’s family still lives over there in ancestral places like Stretford and Macclesfield (recently named the least cultured place in all of Britain!), although some have moved on to London and to be scattered throughout the British Commonwealth. I have a ton of second cousins that I’ve only ever seen on a scant handful of occasions, if at all.

Because my entire father’s side of the family is absurdly Pennsylvania Dutch, my immediate family’s Englishness tends to pop up in completely random and strange ways. Some of them include our kid getting birthday cards addressed to “Master [insert name],” my mother’s ownership of sheet music for various Beatles and Rolling Stones songs brought home from England prior to the British Invasion, afternoon tea, my otherwise inexplicable Manchester United fixation, our sense of humor that tends to leave most people around here very confused rather than laughing, my mother’s completely straight-faced assertion that her favorite sport is cricket, my grandmother’s half-cocked attempt to teach my friends and I netball when we were kids, and the inescapable presence of mincemeat pies and/or eccles cakes every winter holiday season, often supplemented with the presence of lemon tarts, hot rice pudding, scones, and other random baked goodies in lieu of the Christmas cookies that most people in the U.S. would find familiar.

My sister and I always did our best to avoid the damn things while growing up. It wasn’t an easy task, because there were years my mom and my grandmother skipped baking American-style Christmas cookies altogether. The baking of miniature mincemeat pies, however, was never, ever skipped. Such was the case this year when, at dessert time, the mince pies were trotted out with nary a cookie in sight. We decided to let the kid try a mince pie broken up into little pieces. True to form, it turns out he loves the things.

I shudder at the thought.

Who ate all the pies? Our kid.

I’m just hoping this doesn’t mean I’ll have to start making them each December in the future, because neither I nor my wife will ever touch them, except to perhaps use as door stoppers.

If you, for some bizarre reason, ever wanted to try your hand at making some of the traditional English holiday treats mentioned here, I’ll gladly steer you in the direction of the Salford City Council web site, original home of the eccles cake, which has helpfully posted a recipe here.

I must warn you, though, that the Salford City Council is wisely holding back. The recipe they provide is most definitely not the real recipe. For starters, it does not include any brandy and/or whiskey. The recipes for real eccles cakes are protected with a level of security generally reserved for nuclear launch codes. My family has one, but if I ever divulged it I’d probably have to hire the mafia to protect me afterward.

The same goes for the rice pudding recipe — there’s something I ought to try on the kid sometime. At least I like that one.

We Love Toys

December 29, 2008
The Chicco Talking Garden Table  

The Chicco Talking Garden Activity Table

As our kid just had his first holiday season in which he was capable of doing more than simply laying still and drooling upon himself, I can now safely say that I fear his grandparents are going to spoil the living daylights out of him. He wound up receiving more toys than we know what to do with.

I can also now safely say that it is my firm belief that those responsible for designing the packaging of children’s toys ought to be drawn and quartered. There are still a couple of items that I haven’t yet determined how to extricate from their packages without breaking them.

One of the items that hasn’t had packaging issues is something called the “Chicco Talking Garden Activity Table.” While a technologically amazing and I am sure quite educational toy, it is also deeply creepy. It speaks in both male English and female Spanish voices.

The English voice is, for lack of a better term, bizarre. Plus, one of the first things our son began playing with on it was the caterpillar. When the caterpillar is pushed back and forth in English mode, it says in its twisted genteel-but-somehow-vaguely-effete-fake-Southern-accent-meets-fake-British-accent, “I am the garden caterpillar,” among other things. However, the word “garden” is pronounced more like “gah-den.” Our son quickly figured out that if he pushes the caterpillar back and forth rapidly enough, the table will say what sounds like “I am the God — I am the God — I am the God — I am the God . . .” over and over again.

He thinks it’s funny. Actually, I agree.

Those creepy bees.

Those creepy bees.

The Spanish voice is more normal sounding — except for one instance. When the circle of bees on the table is spun around in Spanish mode, it begins to speak in multiple squeaky little bee voices of varying high pitches simultaneously. The overall effect is somehow vaguely demonic. My wife, who studied abroad in Spain and majored in Spanish in college, as yet hasn’t been able to completely figure out what the bees are supposed to be saying. My knowledge of Spanish is non-existent, but I’m pretty sure the bees are saying the following:

“Hello. We are the bees who swallow your soul through a straw. Our name is legion. ‘Knocking on windows, looking in doors, we need to take seven and we might take yours. Can’t call to mom, can’t say a word, you’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard.’ Redrum! REDRUM!”

Or something to that effect.

At any rate, I am now going downstairs to take another stab — emphasis on the word stab — at trying to detach our son’s talking globe from the last piece of box that stubbornly remains tethered to it.

Get Into that Holiday Spirit!

November 18, 2008

Buy Nothing Day is coming up this November 28 (Nov. 29 for those of you outside North America). In its honor, here’s a cartoon:

Get into that holiday spirit!

Get into that holiday spirit!

Who Killed Halloween?

October 23, 2008

Since Halloween is coming up soon, I’ve decided to do something I’ve never done before in this blog: reprint an earlier post of mine. Originally written the day after last Halloween in a frenzy of disappointment and confusion, if there’s any one thing I’ve written on this site that I can genuinely say I’m proud of having placed into the public domain, it’s this:


Halloween in our neighborhood was pathetic. We received a grand total of three trick-or-treaters all night, and on our block it appeared our house was one of just two that had its lights on to welcome kids cruising for candy.

It wasn’t always like this. I can remember growing up in my old neighborhood just over twenty years ago, and it would be a rarity to see a house that was not welcoming trick-or-treaters. Even places where the people weren’t home that night would often have a basket of candy left sitting on the doorstep for kids to take from on the honor system.

What the hell happened to my favorite holiday of the year? Halloween is, at its best, a holiday that celebrates community. At its core, it is supposed to be the one day of the year when it is considered perfectly acceptable to ring the doorbells of those in the neighborhood you barely know and be welcomed. It was a reason for people to get to know each other’s families and begin to find more in common with one another than sheer geographical accident. This spirit seems to have completely withered and died, and I want to know why.

When I was a kid, my hometown had an annual Halloween parade for all the children. It began at a church parking lot and ended at the local fire hall. I have to wonder how many churches today would consider hosting part of a town’s Halloween parade, complete with kids in ghost, monster, devil, ghoul and whatever other types of costumes. Then as well as now, some religious groups had objections to some of Halloween’s imagery, but it seems like they were more willing to find a way to take part in what is essentially a community-building activity.

Today, flipping through the local weekly newspaper, there are instead several ads from rather large nearby churches for “Halloween alternative parties.” Instead of being a part of a community’s Halloween celebration, it seems like a lot of religious groups have determined that, for whatever reason, the holiday’s sheer existence is no longer acceptable in any form. As a result, they have chosen to balkanize the communities of which they are supposed to be a part by having their own, “alternative” harvest-themed celebrations, sanitized for their approval and independent of what the rest of the town does. The popularity of these alternative faith-based shindigs seems to me another symptom of the cultural trends that have led to the rise of “gated communities,” an oxymoron if ever there was one. Instead of welcoming in those around us, we are now trying to shut out everything around us that seems even remotely different or makes us feel in any way uncomfortable.

There’s also a thematic element of Halloween that may have fallen out of fashion these days: confronting one’s fears. On Halloween, people often dress up in costumes that are meant to frighten. When you answer the door on Halloween night, a representation of the face of death may very well stare you back in the face. However, behind that mask is the face of the child wearing it. Behind the representation of our own passing is the face of the next generation. There’s something transcendent in the symbolism of that — while we ourselves will someday perish, the community of which we are a part will continue to live on as we continue to nurture its future. When looked at in that perspective, our fears for our individual futures and eventual demise look quite small and insignificant.

We were once told that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Today, we are told to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior amid dark mutterings about buying plastic sheeting and duct tape. Unfortunately, the values of Halloween just don’t jibe with that vibe.

I take heart, however, in the thought that the ancient pagans upon whose beliefs the modern holiday of Halloween took root believed that the nature of all things was cyclical. What once was shall be again someday, and just as what is now shall someday pass. I can only hope that’s the case.


Once again, marquees in front of the biggest churches outside town are hawking their “fall celebrations” to take place over Halloween.

Once again, we will be ready to welcome trick-or-treaters, even if only one or two show up.

Once again, our porch light will be turned on, shining against the darkness.

I hope yours will be, too.

Stupid Consumer Tricks

November 23, 2007

As if I ever needed more reasons to observe “Buy Nothing Day” instead of “Black Friday,” here’s another example of the wonderful behavior the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season can spawn in mindless consumers:

Police: Parents Leave Child in Car While They Shop Overnight

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A Franklin County couple has been charged after leaving a young child in a car while they shopped.

Cops found the two year-old kid in the unheated car, shivering, soaked and scared, in a shopping center parking lot at 2:45 a.m. the morning of Black Friday.

What were those who left the child behind thinking? Probably, “Let’s leave the kid in the car, honey; he’s just dead weight while we’re racing around to get the best deals at the stroke of midnight, anyway.” Welcome to the American Dream in action.

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