I approach this subject with a certain degree of fear and trepidation. Not just because I’ve had numerous requests for me to address the most-sensitive-of-holiday-topics, but because today, I turned on the ‘anonymous comments’ capability. For non-authors, this is like an Amish streaking naked in Times Square. So please, be kind. Keep in mind this is one woman’s opinion, and that deep, deep, down, I’m a good person. Really.
On one hand, I have Roger, who is obsessively opposed to re-gifting. Or, rather, he was for the first ten years of our marriage. During that time, he insisted we keep every set of Chinese balls, homemade candles, hallucenagenic incense, odd-shaped paperweights and every type of knick-knack, (Not the Brazilian thong supplier, thanks very much!)
His points were valid. The giver went to the time and effort of finding, purchasing and/or making the item especially for us. It’s his contention that to not use the item, or worse, place it out of site, insults the giver of the gift. No matter what, appreciation should be shown to the giver by keeping and displaying said gift.
Fair points all. Appreciation and gratitude should absolutely be expressed. It’s always sincere, even if the pilgrim shaped Thanksgiving soap holder doesn’t quite work with my bathroom. It was a nice thought, cost money to purchase and send. A receiver could have it worse, and receive no gift at all.
That said, I apply some rules to gifts, gift usage and re-gifting.
Rule number one. Never, ever, EVER lie.
Just tonight, Rog and I were discussing the joys of honesty.
“Honesty is attractive,” he told me. I’d never thought of it that way, but I agreed. He then went on to tell me that “honesty is persistent.” In other words, the truth will catch up with you.
Let me give you an example. One year, when I was in my early twenties, I attended a holiday white elephant party. I’d never done so before, and was asked to bring an item worth less than five bucks. I looked in my cupboard, found a glass vegetable platter still in it’s box, and figured its was just the ticket. Proud of my item, I wrapped it and took it to the party.
The party planner put us in a circle and we played a game that required the participants to open and “pass around” the gift. The rules are not-important; the outcome is. Suffice it to say that my plate was opened, and a man in the room recognized the plate. In front of the entire room, he asked where I got it, and I was caught off-guard. Instead of saying it was a gift I never used, I said I purchased it the year before. With a red face, he told me that was interesting, since he purchased a plate in Germany for his wife, just like the one I held in my hands.
The room went silent. Shuffles, laughter, odd looks. It was horrid. The reality was the gift had been given to me as a birthday present the year before. I lost five pounds from sweaty armpits. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and say “what a coincidence!” and move on.
All was not lost. A few days later, the same guy told me he was mortally wounded his wife had given me the plate HE gave HER as an “I love you” gift. The anger he showed toward me was redirected hurt stemming from his wife’s re-gifting. This leads to rule number 2.
Rule number two. If you are going to regift, do it in another state.
Oh. My. Lands. This one was classic. Last year, we had a Christmas party where many guests brought gifts. A good many were plants, some that needed immediate planting, a few that gave us allergic reactions, and one that we were morally opposed to keeping.
The latter plant in this case, an ivy, is plant-non-gratta in this household. It’s an invasive species in Washington, and takes over, kills and consumes everything in its path like the borg ship from h–l. In this case, the plant had no tag on it telling us the person who gave the gift.
The following week, I had a business-client event to go to, and wanted to bring a gift. The ivy! we both thought. We were pleased that we could re-use and regift the item. No sooner did I enter the room and drop the gift off when my good friend (a client turned friend actually) came up to me and commented on the plant. She asked where I got it, and I said in hushed tones, that it was a gift, but didn’t have a tag on it.
“That was my gift to you!” she exclaimed. This moment of mortification (MOM) gave me a flashback to the time I ran in to a former co-worker at the mall. She was shopping with the new husband (I with a boyfriend) and she had a huge pooch in her belly. The rest of her was as thin as I remembered, but her tummy looked six or seven months pregnant.
I patted it, and asked when she was due.
“I’m not pregnant,” she said. “I’m happily married and must have put on weight.”
Fortunately, my friend was more good natured about my clueness-ness than my former co-worker. However, I will never, ever make that mistake again.
Rule number three. Don’t regift in-family.
This is akin to the ‘don’t marry your cousin policy.’ I’m not just talking immediate family members. I’m talking your family to his family (spouses) or cousin to cousin. For example, if I received a seashell-inspired turnip peeler from my mother-in-law (never have btw) and gave it to my own sister, and she mentioned it at a birthday party for my daughter (that they both attended), the re-gifting would be obvious. Not good. (note my requirement to change the names and items of the innocent to protect the guilty?)
Rule number four. Use the gift at least once.
See rule number one. This ensures you satisfy the inevitable question of “how did you like the gift?” You can honestly respond, “we used the macrame towel in our guest bathroom!” while looking the gift-giver squarely in the eye. However, make sure you don’t receive another unwanted towel by identifying your style of decor, what you really need, then drop hints throughout the year about things you “simply can’t find!” This last year, I went so far as to send relatives links to $9 dollar lip gloss that makes me as nearly as happy as driving a clean car, and a lot cheaper than a macrame towel!
Rule number five. Tell/ask the giver if you can regift.
This last summer, my neighbor told me she was going to hold her annual garage sale. As is our custom, I went over early to check out the goods, and she came up, holding a hand-made rug I’d purchased for her in Mexico six or seven years earlier.
“I’ve had this, and never really used it,” she said. “Do you want it back or can I sell it?” I’ll admit, I was a little hurt. Rog and I had picked it out, hauled it back, and heck, it was cool looking. But truly, it wasn’t her style, nor that of her home. I respected the fact she held on to it, and she had even placed it over her living room couch for the first year.
I took it back. Now it sits in our laundry room, on top of other things I can’t really use but don’t want to discard.
Honesty hurts. But I like honesty. I can deal with honesty. It would have been far worse to see the blanket at a friend’s home, and learn she bought it at my neighbor’s garage sale!
The other day, I was asked if gifts have a shelf-life. Sure. What that shelf-life is, I have no clue. Two years? Five. Don’t know. Don’t want to find out. I recently justified it’s ok to regift after someone dies, moves, or is no longer a part of my life. That said, I’m still going to give it another year, just in case.
With the holiday season fast approaching, I’m getting hit up for some great app recipes. The following recipe for crab cakes is a sure fire winner for any occasion or holiday in any season.
What makes this recipe so good you might ask? A large portion of the decade I spent in San Francisco was at Fog City Diner. The diner was located within walking distance of my first office, and was a key decision making factor when I searched for a bigger office space. Every lunch for six years was spent at the diner, and my ever-expanding waistline bore testament to my addiction. When Rog and I started dating, he predicted I was on the fast-track to a heart attack. I either needed to start running along the Embarcadero or “cut back on the crab cakes.”
I started running along the Embarcadero.
We recently accepted a dinner invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner with some friends and dine on a fabulous, man-made concoction, a “Tofurkey.” As my mom reads this, I imagine her first looking up and asking my father “what’s a Tuforkey,” as though it’s a new swear word.
Mom. Not so. We are talking about an actual turkey, made of tofu and molded in to the shape of a Turkey. And because you don’t know what tofu is all about, it’s a non-meat based substance that you wouldn’t deign to taste. If you did, you’d swirl it around in your mouth, then spit on the floor. We have been informed the entire tofurkey with all the trimmings are available at Whole Foods.
Rog and I are pretty excited. After all, how often do I get to experience anything new at 42? And since we’re going to deflower our tofurkey selves, we’re going all in. This means having the vegetarian stuffing, or whatever vegetarians substitute for stuffing, since it can’t have innerds in it, potatoes (sans butter or cream) and some type of vegetarian pumpkin pie. I did propose a desert or two, just in case the experiment goes bad, like Jeff Goldblume in The Fly. That idea got shot down hard and fast. As Roger later remarked, “you gonna gamble with your life, do it all the way.”
It got me thinking about other Thanksgiving dinners where we felt on the edge. During one Thanksgiving meal at another friends home, we ate some type of other white meat, but it was unidentifiable. It was complimented with cherry rice stuffing and walnuts (odd), roasted bell peppers and blueberry cobbler. Even immigrants to this country know it was pumpkins, not blueberrys. We said nary a word, ate as much as decorum dictated, then hit the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home. The friendship was short-lived.
|Tofurky, non-molded kind|
This year, our next door neighbors are going to have venison, but this is a part of deer if I’m not mistaken. Sounds gamey, anti-bambi and wild in a barbaric, I-have-to-go-kill-something type of a way. Then there is the fish alternative, Salmon being an obvious. Can’t think Washington without conjuring up a salmon. Having arrived on the other side of “Salmon Days” festival this last weekend, it’s time to give the slippery critters a break so they can mate and die as God intended.
If we go strictly vegan, we could get a roast, made of butternut squash, apples and mushrooms, a vegan turkey breast from Whole Foods, and then other strange things I’m not even going to mention.
For the pie recipe, I found this one from Nava Atlas. It sounds pretty strange, and haven’t made it myself, but as long as you (MOM) are reading, I figured I’d get crazy and put it in. You’ve tried fifteen different bread pudding recipes lately, so you might as well try a new pumpkin one!
2 cups well-baked and mashed butternut squash or sugar pumpkin (see Notes)
3/4 cup silken tofu (about half of a 12.3-ounce aseptic package)
1/2 cup natural granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg & ginger)
9-inch good quality graham cracker or whole grain pie crustPreheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the pumpkin or squash pulp in a food processor with the remaining ingredients (except crust). Process until velvety smooth.
|NOTES: To bake butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, halve the squash or pumpkin (you need a really good knife to do so!) and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the the halves cut side up in a foil-lined, shallow baking dish and cover tightly with more foil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp and discard the skin. Use any leftover squash or pumpkin pulp for another purpose.If you want to make this in a hurry, you can use a 16-ounce can of pureed pumpkin.|
In the meantime, I’m going to get all ready for my first tofurkey, and let you know how it goes.
In preparation for the cooking class I’m giving nxt wknd, I’ve been jotting notes down for a little give-away cookbook. In occurred to me that if I have cooked for nearly thirty-five years and had no clue on the very basics, I’d be doing a favor by sharing my lessons learned.
Sarah’s General Cooking Basics
1. Eggs at room temperature (better for fluff), better for integration. Also whip faster when room temperature. If you have only cold eggs, heat by cracking the eggs into a metal-bottom bowl. Place bowl in warm water for a few minutes. This will warm the eggs, but not ruin the properties. Saves hours of room-temp time.
2. Sugar-super fine when required and called for…BUT, not good for most recipes. In fact, one time I made the mistake of using superfine for Macaroons and completely ruined the recipe. The macaroons didn’t hold shape, so instead of being like little mountains, they were flat, white oil stains on my cookie sheet.
3. High quality chocolate. Ghiradelli. Moderate cost and highest output for cost. Through experimentation, I’ve found the Baker’s chocolate is OK, but it’s a more corse. The texture isn’t as nice, nor is the flavor as rich. I also have to add a titch more sugar when I use Baker’s, than when I use brand such as Ghiradelli. (yes, titch is my technical cook’s phrase).
4. Convection vs not. Convection bake-great for baking w/crust. Pure convection, great for meats. Regular bake, best for dairy-based, such as cheesecake. Unfortunately, the timing is all over the map, depending on the brand. While some of my cookbooks identify or recommend times, I tend to go on-line to get the timing for my particular brand of oven, Dacor. I learned the lesson the hard way, using the recommended time from the cookbook for a Thanksgiving roast, and ended up blowing $70.00 worth of meat because it was overdone. Never again!
5. Always, always grill onions and garlic in butter. Flavor is much better. When I’m feeling frisky, I skip the oil altogether. For example, in scalloped potatoes. I modified an already to-die-for cardiac arrest recipe by using butter, and it was much better. Granted, I had to do a bit of skimming from the top, but then I cut this by using extra thick whipping cream (organic), and it was awesome.
6. Organic whipping cream. Now, I’m not a nut about the whole organic thing. I try as much as I can. Yet non-organic buttermilke has no difference in the texture of the recipe (and I can’t tell in the taste). On the other hand, I promise you, organic whipping cream is the only way to go. For whatever reason, the texture and outcome of the recipe is SOO much better with organic. I’d recommend my local provider, but understand they are only, well, local. Sorry.
7. Always add the herbs in the butter vs the raw in the item. Flavor spreads better. I’m not a trained cook mind you, just a hack with forty-years experience. I don’t care what the cookbooks and chefs on TV say—I prefer to add certain seasonings during the sautéing part because the flavor—expands—is the best choice of word. This is particular true when the sauté is being added to breads or other item that will suck up the seasoning.
8. Underbake ‘baked’ items (brownies, cookies) for better texture, by at least 1-2 minutes. Here again, practice makes perfect. I’ve spent more than hundreds of dollars baking cookies, brownies etc that are perfect when warm, and perhaps the first hour afterward. Beyond that, Rog might as well use them for a hockey puck. Unless the recipe identifies how it will turn out, I underbake. Then it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days no problem.
9. Sweat the lentils. Ensures no soggy, mushy soups (works with peas as well). For years, my soups fell victim to globs of mushy goo, instead of nice, split pea soups with identifiable peas. The same was true for lentils. Then I was told by a nice old woman, the trick was sweating the lentils.
This means to take the lentils (or peas/whatever) put in the pot with oil (which I replace with butter) and ‘brown’ them, for about 3-7 minutes, depending on the quantity. This ensures the lentils hold their nice shell while cooking the inside (of course, after you add everything else and follow the rest of the recipe).
I have a 10th, but thought 9 sounded less daunting!
Last night was Apple Celebration, a wonderful adoration of children, fall colors and all things that fall from trees. My task was to prepare an appetizer and I willfully rebelled against the inclusion of apples. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s that my husband, and men in general, want meat in addition to, or instead of, one sweet dessert and app after another. I made three dozen, the first plate was emptied in between the I put it down and turned around to get the other serving dish and put it on the table.
|Layered Taquio Appetizer|
Time to prep: 20 min
- Sautee pan
Ingredients to purchase
- sweet onions (1)
- small chicken (pre-roasted) is fastest
- 1/2 red bell pepper
- 1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper (see note below)
- Good olive oit
- Salted butter
- Corn tortillas
- Sour cream
- chile seasoning
- tobasco (optional)
- hungarian sweet paprika
- kosher salt
- cilantro (but can use parsely if you don’t care for cilantro)
Note: (I have a thing against green bells. I’ve found guests don’t like the stronger taste of greens, so I opt for the other colors. The flavor is a bit sweeter. You can substitute at will).
- Take it off the stove to let cool.
|Cookie cutter rounds
a must for every cook
|Cutting the tortilla rounds|
When I recently went to LA for a 3 day trip, the lives of my daughters relied upon Rog’s father skills. He was covered during the day, when the kids were with our local Grandma. It was the twelve hours from 6-6 that had me a bit worried.
Sure enough, as I dined on Sushi in Beverly Hills, I get this text : ‘Baby food out. What now??’
The stores weren’t closed you see. He’d gone, revolted at the price of baby food, and determined our daughter was going to be the Ghandi of Maple Valley by staging a hunger strike. When her limit reached two hours, he calls me.
“Make it,” I texted. Someone who is so cheap as to decline buying sustanance doesn’t warrant the cost of a phone call.
Back he goes to the store, diving her preferred foods of sweet potatoes and carrots were enough. He splurged, and went organic. The following day, he said I needed to blog this for all the fathers who don’t know how to make baby food, and their mother’s who are “spending outrageous amounts of money on baby food!” (my long-suffering family knows this little factoid abt Rog. He doesn’t care about the big things in life. It’s the little nickle-and-diming that drives his soul deep into the woods).
3 Steps to the best, organic baby food
1. Purchase the stuff.
2. Boil until you can insert and remove a knife.
3. Blanche. This means–pour out the hot liquid and immediately fill with cold water. This ensures the peel comes off from the root.
The only downside of this adventure was then I was forced to acknowledge the convenience had far outweighed the cost factor in my personal hierarchy of needs. We played Rock Paper Scissors to determine how much our child should be fed what, end on our own 99%, but having the back-up for emergencies. I’m down with that, particularly since I manage the grocery budget. Thanks to Rog, I now have more pin-money for other things.
Due to an overwhelming request from certain women (and a few husbands) who shall remain anonymous, I’m reluctantly divulging my best secret for getting high quality jewelry at low prices.
Put it in your iphone notes. Your address book. Get on line. Get the newsletter. Get the catalog. Here’s why. Real diamond flower rings for $85 (on special today). Sapphire and diamond bracelet for $175. Big, fat quartz cocktail rings for $60. Here’s my philosphy–men, if you’re going to spend $50 bucks on a steak dinner that’s going to process through your stomach and out your bum in 3 hours, why not take that money and buy something for your significant other, who will give you undying love for a lot longer than 3 hours. (Rog is screeching in the background). He hates it when I use that analogy, but it’s TRUE. Men want fishing poles. Women want jewelry.
Girls. We have some shopping to do. Christmas is coming up, that means moms, sisters, friends. Then MEN, we have Valentines, then Mother’s Day shortly thereafter.
For the absolute, positive, best deal around, this is what you do.
1-get the catalog. The catalog often has extra special 25% off the normal 50% off prices
2-get on the newsletter. The on-line newsletter sends out extra 10% off deals. Today, I got one that announced another 15% off on a ring I’d already purchased for a friend a few months ago from the catalog. While the difference wasn’t huge, it was still another twenty bucks.
3-be ready to pounce. I’ll admit it. I love a good deal. Who doesn’t?
My trick is to take all the loose change around the house and put it in a little piggy account. Rog actually calls it my pin-money. As in, the forty-year old phrase used to describe housewives who took a dollar and pinned it to their brassiere “just in case.” I love the pin-money phrase, because it’s never enough to be MAD money. I keep a ziplock back in my car for loose change, a bag in the kitchen (for Rog’s loose change) and one in the laundry room, for change that falls out of Rog’s pocket. See my strategy? It all adds up to big bucks. Every 20 counts. It only takes a few twenties and badda-bing-badda-boom, I can buy a new ring.
I’m already planning for Christmas, because the economy is so bad, that things are going on sale earlier than every. Why pay retail is my motto. Have fun and think ahead!!!
Something’s in the air, and it involves big bellies. Six women are preparing to give birth in the next few months. With the recession slamming the doors on already threatening boutique baby shops, where does a girl (and some husbands/friends/spouses) turn, but to the Internet.
I’m going to save someone the time and energy of looking and give you some great sources for unique, high-quality and affordable baby stuff. And if you’re a man reading this, remember that you win GREAT POINTS for getting your female co-worker, cousin, sister, friend, something cool. You are guaranteed to be named in a will if you actually look/find/buy it yourself, without relying upon a female conspirator.
First things first. Tinyprints.com. The best, highest-quality and least expensive source for printed anything. I’ve used Tinyprints for my own birth announcements, two wedding shower and a baby shower. If you want to surprise someone, use this source (shout out to Darcy for showing me the way on this one). Pick the item, the color, upload the photos, proof and wallah! You are done and looking like a superstar.
Next, go for the gifts at Too Cute Baby Gifts. I particularly like the Personalized section, because it has items as low as $19.99 and then upper end stuff of course. Think this is over-the-top? Think again. 20 bucks is about the same as a dinner at a regular restaurant (or less), and it will last years. The impression and thought goes a long way. I spent another $10 and got the lamb set for the wife of my voice teacher. At $27, it’s a great gift, and free shipping. If you don’t have a clue, go for the giftbaskets. You can’t go wrong.
If you are a fashionista, and want to make a statement (as in, get all the other ladies and a few men saying ‘aahhhh’), check out BabyStar.com. I love the variety of organic bibs, burping, nursing clothes etc., and the cool baby bags, although that’s normally an oxymoron. But I’ve had good luck, as in, the mom-to-be has never returned one.
I’ve a few more, but I need to reserve a few for the next two weeks before I do my shopping. I’d hate to have every single friend check out what I’m going to get.