If passive-aggressive behavior is your thing (and at this time of year isn’t it everybody’s?) then we would all do well to look into those special holiday gift possibilities that subtly remind the recipient of their perceived shortcomings. Figuratively speaking, it’s just a little twisting jab of two fingers into a vulnerable back area just below the rib cage.
Books make wonderful gifts because collectively they cover so much territory on every conceivable subject. It does take some malice aforethought to be effective in this endeavor, but a couple of late evenings on the internet and a few quick trips to your local bookstore will make the giving truly worthwhile, not to mention amusing and playfully evil.
Here’s one: Your sister and the creep she married have just completed remodeling their kitchen. Why not scour the DIY Home section and find a title like Think Twice about Colors for Your New Kitchen. Believe me, they won’t begin to know how to thank you.
If there’s a cook in the family who takes inordinate pride in his or her ability to cook in the French tradition and who mentions Escoffier in a way that would suggest they were close friends, then any French cookbook that has the words “bistro” and “easy” in its title will be spot-on perfect. If there’s a whole chapter on haricots verts amandine, so much the better.
For any relatives who happen to be Trumpers and therefore are not invited to this year’s Christmas gathering, the Psychology section of any quality bookstore should have the latest edition of How to Recognize Cognitive Dissonance in Yourself and Others.
Of course, be sure to inscribe each book so the gift keeps giving.
The gift of music can be magical. A snare drum for a favorite nephew whose parents you don’t like, is always a big hit. And remember that kazoos and Jew’s harps make wonderful little stocking stuffers that annoy almost as greatly as an accordion at a mere fraction of the price. And since nobody has ever sounded good playing a clarinet within the first two years, you can pick one up cheap at almost any reputable pawn shop to bring great joy into someone else’s house.
And while we’re thinking about music, wouldn’t this be the perfect time to introduce Uncle Ralph to a little heavy-metal to contrast his usual jam of pre-war Glenn Miller? And for Tiny, the dope hipster in the family who now insists on being called Lil’ Tiny, how about some Barbershop quartets?
For reasons that escape me and probably others, tools are always on sale at Christmas. Especially expensive power tools and other, powerless tool sets for which most people will have a single use during the course of an entire lifetime. By giving everybody on your list a 121-piece socket-wrench set, for instance, you’ll be gently pointing out their mechanical ineptitude while suggesting that they perhaps do something about it.
For your Facebook friends, wall posters are available that gently point out the proper usage of “there, they’re and their.”
A gift box of personal hygiene products presented to a co-worker can be both suggestive and remedial, but always provocative. If it’s a Secret Santa situation, only include deodorants.
And if you’d like to challenge an elderly relative’s mental standing, such as it were, simply give him/her exactly what he/she gave you last year and watch them drift into a confused reverie of thought.
Most people do care deeply about the welfare and well-being of their families. Or not. But nothing suggests such concern as gifting your adorably pudgy cousin Sofia and her not so adorable husband, with a gym membership or a piece of outrageously expensive exercise equipment that doubles as a coat rack when not in use, which is most of the time after its initial three days.
In an ever-so-subtle way, both are gifts that say, “Yo Sofia, Bert! Y’all gonna die if you don’t shed some pounds! Dude!” Or something like that. I don’t know. I’m tired. I don’t do youth-speak.
One might have thought that by now anybody who was going to invest in a home gym would have done so. But there’s always a new generation willing to prove themselves fit by investing heavily in gym equipment. Buy a stationary bike, a set of barbells, maybe a jump rope or a full-length mirror to monitor the progress you’re making sculpting your body and you’re in business. The reality is, or course, that a StepFaster, even with the optional television, is boring, and the progress you made in those first three days wasn’t satisfactory. By now, of course, it’s been a coat rack for at least two years.
So you buy something else to replace it. Except you keep the StepFaster, not for sentimental reasons or any notion that you might using it again, but for the simple fact that there is no market for used exercise equipment, much like there is no market for used pick-up trucks in Beverly Hills.
That’s why there is always a treadmill next to any public dumpster.
I have a friend who, over the past three decades, has purchased every piece of exercise equipment known to man. A large part of his house looks like a gym, except that cobwebs have taken up residence over each piece of equipment like tinsel on a Christmas tree. It is an eerie sight. It also smells like a locker room.
January is the busiest month for fitness centers. Bolstered by New Year’s resolutions to get in shape, lose those extra pounds and trim whatever it is that needs trimming, people pay the initiation fee, the first six months of dues, find a locker currently under rent control, and become friends with a 20-year-old trainer who looks like Adonis with acne and sounds like a drill sergeant.
After a single session of being screamed at by Sgt. Adonis while your eyes fill up with so much sweat that you can’t read the pithy signs that decorate the spaces among enough mirrors to make it seem like there are at least eight of you (No Pain, No Gain; Use It or Lose It; Do or Die; Exit), you mutter some unmentionables in front of your locker as you plop your weary and sweat-soaked butt onto the bench. Briefly striking a pose worthy of Rodin, albeit less sculpted, you stuff your gear into the $300 gym bag you recently bought, walk to your Porsche and gently make an obscene gesture at the gym as you drive off.
Unless the fitness club has a bar. Then you stay long enough for one vodka-and-beet-juice cocktail on ice.
Six months later, you decide you’d better get in shape for the summer beach season, so you return to the gym, pay for another six months and meet your new trainer, a Venus di Milo with arms who also has a voice like a drill sergeant, but an octave higher.
Then you go to the bar for a gin-and-carrot juice-cocktail, neat, but with three anchovy-stuffed olives.
Geri and I are, perhaps to your surprise, fitness freaks. Seriously. We have a staircase in our house that we travel up and down at least two, sometimes as many as three or four times a day. We have a pair of 3-pound barbells for all the obvious reasons, and we have a box full of wide stretchy rubber strips in a rainbow of colors that we’re not sure how to use, except as not-very-effective weaponry.
And of course, there’s the pièce de résistance of our fitness world: the stationary bike.
It hasn’t moved in years.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
A traditional yule-time drink dating back hundreds (maybe even thousands) of years, eggnog is made with eggs (hence the name) and, of course, nog (hence the rest of the name). Based on having had it once, I found it to be moderately disgusting and a not-so-nice thing to do to perfectly good alcohol. Then again, it isn’t as bad as your run-of-the-mill $35 fruitcake, which 40 percent of all Americans use as doorstops.
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk
2 whole cloves
Pinch of cinnamon
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. each of bourbon and rum, or brandy to taste
4 egg whites (optional)
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg yolks until light in color. Continue beating and slowly add the sugar. Beat at high speed until fluffy.
Combine the milk, cloves, and cinnamon in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Slowly heat on medium heat until the milk mixture is steamy hot, but not boiling. (God forbid you should curdle this stuff and make it worse.)
Slowly add half of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
Cook the eggnog on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to thicken slightly. Again: Do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove from heat and stir in the cream.
Strain the mixture through a mesh strainer and allow to cool for an hour.
Stir in vanilla extract, nutmeg, and alcohol. Chill.
If contracting salmonella poisoning doesn’t bother you, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until they peak. Add a teaspoon of sugar and continue to beat until they reach stiff peaks. Gently fold into eggnog. Dispose of properly.