The Gifts of Christmas Boyfriends Past

Truth: knives work just as well
Truth: knives work just as well

“Can I just get rid of these?” My mother turned around to show me a pair of scissors in a neon-green sheath.

They’re herb scissors, which are really just adapted ribbon cutters and sold to culinary tool junkies at a premium. They were a Christmas gift last year from my then boyfriend and were put to use at exactly one family gathering before being promptly relegated to a bottom drawer.

“They’re stupid. You can use a knife.”

Like the knock-off Pop Phone he had also given me, I decided these were fated for an afterlife courtesy of the Good Will.

This time last year, I was in a not so unserious relationship with Frank Hampshire, a nonathletic but good-humoured project manager. In early November, he started fussing over what to get me for Christmas. He was an online shopper — I mean, he bought EVERYTHING online, from pots and pans to couches, to dinner, to dry cleaning — and wanted to get his orders in early enough, in time to use any “frequent shopper” coupons he had earned since Black Friday the previous year (seriously, I’m pretty sure the guy will never have to pay for another dumpling again on Seamless.)

His gift-wrapping method was the best part of the exchange
His gift-wrapping method was the best part of the exchange

I had a fairly simply list. In fact, it included only one item: gold hoop earrings. I had mourned the loss of half a pair at a dance party at MoMA a year earlier, and missed having such a staple in my jewelry box. They didn’t have to be real gold, I said. I was sensitive also to budget, (even if his salary was exactly twice the size of mine), and to ease of access. So I gave him a list of 4 pair all that clocked in under $100 and all available at stores within walking distance from his apartment.

“I haven’t bought a girl a pair of earrings since high school,” he told me. “It turned out she didn’t even have pierced ears.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that. My ears are pierced. Remember that time my earring got caught on your scarf?”

“Yea. No. Isn’t there anything else you want?”

So instead of earrings, I got a stocking full of nick-nacks — the sum of which totaled to well over the $50 of those Middle Kingdom Cylindrical Bead earrings I saw at the Met. A red Pop-Phone knock-off, a case of my favorite pens (Pilot Percise, fine), the aforementioned herb scissors, ear buds, a “fairy bottle” jump drive loaded with 2 pirated movies, Molton Brown Bath Gel in Pink Pepperpod, Kheil’s body lotion, and another item or two I can’t recall. 85% of the items were put to good use, and I suppose that meant I had won, even if I didn’t get my earrings. The herb scissors and the pens were supposed to be the thoughtful gifts — he knew I liked to cook, and sometimes we cooked together, and he knew I wasn’t allowed to buy those pens on my office account (too expensive for a not-for-profit pen.)

Gold (plated) hoop earrings were also thoughtful. But I suppose, that was too much of a meaningful commitment.

There’s a gigantic, golden hard-cover book on my nightstand, and it’s been sitting there for two years now. “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present” was a 2012 Christmas present from my already-ex-boyfriend. We had broken up not even a month earlier and the gift exchange had been unplanned. We met for a fancy dinner as a way to usher in our new era as “just friends.” We split the bill. And then we surprised one another with “a little something.”

I knew he traveled and got painfully dry skin in the winter, so he got a bar lotion (with a manly scent) from Lush. I got the academic art-history meets sociology tome by a Columbia professor.  His gift was absurdly thoughtful and meaningful. On our first date, he compared me to a Klimt painting, and when I opened the paper to see the cover, the significance of the subject didn’t escape me.

“You can read it so I don’t have to,” he said when I hugged him. “It’s too many pages.”

“There aren’t enough pictures.”

I made my way through the first 50 pages — there’s underlining and a note or two in the margins. Unlike the Pop Phone and the pens that have been lost or have run out of ink, it’s a less disposable gift. A metaphor perhaps for these two relationships past.

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The 12 Days of Christmas… and the 12 Men I’d Need to Get Me Through Them

Look, I know it's Ryan Gosling and not a lumberjack, per-say... but It's Christmas.
Look, I know it’s Ryan Gosling and not a Lumberjack, per-say… but It’s Christmas and I’m allowed a wish-list. 

Dear Santa,

2014 has been a good year for me, and while I’ve been enjoying myself, I’ve been sure to do all the right things to get on your “Good List” again for the 27th out of my 29 years (let’s not talk about that one year in college…)

So while I’m in full-on Holiday Elf mode (the stockings are hung by the chimney with care!) here’s a list of things I want, no NEED, to make my Christmas a success for me, my family, and our guests. It’s reasonably straight forward and I’ve designed it as a kind of “installment plan” — one gift for every day leading up to Christmas. Advent-style. Amen.

So here goes:

On the First Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a lumberjack with a pick-up truck

The best day to buy your tree is the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a truth no one wants to tell  you, but all the trees you see in nurseries or on the side of the road have all been cut down and shipped at the same time. Even the ones you buy on Christmas Eve were harvested in mid November. A lumberjack would see my tree is the freshest on the block.

One Second Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a fireman with a sizable hose.

In case said lumberjack fails, and the tree is a little dried out, it’s always handy to have a fire specialist on hand…

Let's just not
Let’s just not

On the Third Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a chauffeur with a trailer for my shopping victories.

I drove into the mall parking lot on Sunday only to drive out of it 15 minutes later — there were exactly ZERO spots available. Several people are going to be short stocking stuffers this Christmas… a shortcoming that could easily have been avoided with my own Chauffeur and a Royce.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a man with an electrician’s degree.

Lights on the porch. Lights on the hedges. Lights on the family Christmas tree. Lights, lights everywhere… and broken bulbs, wiggling wires, and frizzing fuses to go with them. For some men, the front yard Christmas light display is a sparkling, LED-enhanced demonstration of their masculinity. But whether or not he approaches the strings of bulbs and illuminated snowmen with a competitive edge, he should, in the very least, know how not to electrocute himself…and how not blow the entire East Coast grid.

Clean my blinds then make me a drink.
Clean my blinds then make me a drink.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a butler with a feather duster… and a stiff martini. 

Where did all this dust come from? And all this stuff? Someone needs to see that it’s all sorted out… and while they’re at it, pass me the Tanqueray.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a masseur with strong hands and open timetable.

Does this one need explaining? I think not.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a free-range organic farmer. 

If you think the malls are bad in the final days before Christmas, try the supermarkets. I’m a big fan of farm to table — this would make it all possible.

On the Eight Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a top chef with a knack for catering.

Tree-trimming party, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Year’s Day, Post-New Year’s Day — the final two weeks of the year are full of parties. And it would be so much easier if I had a chef to do all the work for me… ideally one that looks a lot like Curtis Stone, but with better recipes…

Curtis, any day you're in my kitchen is a holiday. I'll bring the mistletoe.
Curtis, any day you’re in my kitchen is a holiday. I’ll bring the mistletoe.

On the ninth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a personal trainer.

Oh, God. Have I really eaten this much already?! Preparing a 4-course meal is physical work. I need a trainer to not only help me shed those holiday half-dozens, but to help get be buff and ready for next year’s cooking marathon.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… 10 Lords a Leaping.

I used to go to the Nutcracker at the NYC Ballet every year. The Candy Canes were always very impressive, and it isn’t a party unless someone is dancing… and why can’t it be 10 athletic, land-owning, titled gentlemen?

On the eleventh day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a plumber. 

Because all of a sudden the radiator in the living room isn’t getting hot and the guests are coming in an hour… like I really need THIS!

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… Benedict Cumberbatch.

Because it’s Christmas, and why the hell not.

Benedict can be my Santa any day... #naughtyelf
Benedict can be my Santa any day… #naughtyelf

I thank you for your consideration and attention to this matter. As you’ve probably witnessed (since you know when/where/with whom I am sleeping and you know when I’m awake) the internet and real-life social networking have come-up short in fulfilling these needs. I hope you can come through where all else has failed.

Merry Christmas to you and Mrs. Claus. I’ll leave the cookies and the milktini on top of the fireplace mantle this year — sorry the dog got to the coffee table first last year…

Many thanks,

Kathleen

Here’s a drink to you, 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, I confess, I’m a little sad. It was a good year. Nay, a great year. The kind of year you look back on and think: “Gee, I hope I have another 2012.”

I got my moment to shine, curating my first NYTimes reviewed exhibit
I got my moment to shine, curating my first NYTimes reviewed exhibit

2012 got off to a rickety start. I was frustrated at work and play. I was suffering from typical mid-winter doldrums, the kind that come with a restlessness that makes you start looking at new job postings or considering applying to culinary school. On January 2nd, I had lunch with a guy I had met online and thought would turn into Mr. Right. He didn’t call me back. Humpf. I was uninspired as January began to click down.

By March, I was singing a different tune. Life was off and running. After a few small-scale successes, I was curating my first marquee exhibition for my organization. I’d see a raise, a promotion, and  a full-page spread in the New York times. There would be failed but funny first dates. The guy that didn’t call me back became a trusted friend.

Old friends made their mark as we planned new adventures. Reunions happened on a grand scale. Close friends got engaged or said their “I-dos” with joy and really delicious wedding cake. Love blossomed under a moonlit canopy and carried through the summer into late autumn, when the changing weather brought with it new prespectives. We closed one chapter and began to write another.

Guadi stole our hearts in Spain
Guadi stole our hearts in Spain

My mother and I packed our suitcases and gallivanted across Europe, embarking on the kind of ramble through five countries that can only be summed up as a trip of lifetime.

A hurricane hit. We were left relatively unscathed, but others were less lucky.

Yes, as it turns out, 2012 was one exciting, raucous ramble from beginning to end. There were some rough patches, some catastrophes, some heartbreak, some unpleasantness that will leave their scars, but all in all, 2012 was a year of highlights for me. I’m lucky, and grateful to be so.

My wish for you, and perhaps my hope for me too, is that 2013 is the kind of year where we’ll all look back and say: “Gee, I hope I have another 2013.”

 

 

We All Need a Little Christmas

“Wishing people a Merry Christmas feel wrong right now,” my mother said as she put her stack of to-be-written Christmas cards aside and moved on to the monotony of ironing my father’s shirts. “It doesn’t seem like there’s much to be merry about.”

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has punched the nation in the gut, taking the air out of our collective lungs and with it, the joy out of the season. Elementary schools are more than institutions of learning. They are supposed to be community builders and safe havens for our children. Something sacred has been desecrated.

“We’re being extra sensitive. People don’t feel like celebrating. People just need Christmas to be over with,” the publisher of a news paper observed in a phone conference with me and my boss.

Indeed, our hearts are all heavy. Making merry seems out of place.

People just need Christmas to be over with.

The 2012 Rockefeller Christmas tree makes me feel like a happy 5 year old.
The 2012 Rockefeller Christmas tree turns us all into children, full of wonder

As I walked up Manhattan’s 5th Avenue from Bryant Park Friday night, watching families walk hand-in-hand to take in the Saks windows and Rockefeller tree or make their way to the Bryant Park skating rink, I was struck with a realization — we don’t need Christmas to be over with.

What we need is a little Christmas.

Christmas is about family. Christmas is about togetherness. Christmas is about healing. Christmas is about transcendence.

Think about it: here we are in the middle of winter, the trees are bare, the thermometer low, and yet the world is lit-up with beams of multicolor lights. Christmas is something we can rely on — it comes back, year after year, no matter what the circumstances. It’s a time to remember and to be thankful, and this year we must all be thankful for each other, for having a Christmas to share.

26 families in Newtown, CT are having a hard time in finding joy in the season, of this there is no doubt. For those of us that are lucky to be with friends and family, this is the year to hold everyone we care about a little closer and acknowledge how precious these moments of togetherness are.

Life is short.

Embrace the season.

Let yourself be joyful.

Get caught under the mistletoe.

Drink that extra cup of cocoa.

Hug your child/parent/spouse an extra time.

Leave cookies & milk out for Santa.

Look in wonder at your bedazzled Christmas tree.

Be a kid at heart.

And at the end of the night, say an extra set of prayers — one for the families in Newtown, whose Christmases will never be the same, and one to say Thank You for the Christmas you have today.

christmas time 2009 002

A Catholic Confesses: Father, Forgive Me, I’m Addicited to Matzo

Matzo -- the perfect vehicle for anything you want to eat.

“Planning a big Seder dinner?” Ivane, my favorite check-out lady at Whole Foods asked as I unloaded the 10 boxes of matzo from my shopping cart.

The pound of pork tenderloin, the 5-lb ham, and the 2 packages of bacon which I also unloaded were a clear tell that no, I was not celebrating Passover. I was merely stocking up on my favorite seasonal cracker before the lack of demand would take away my supply.

“You only like matzo because you don’t have to eat it every day,” my Jewish friends always tell me.

Maybe. Arguably, us Catholics get off easy. “No bread” is one of the many paths to self-denial we can chose from during the Lent season. And since I’m an “Only When She Flies” Catholic, giving up bread for 40 days is less about religious doctrine and more about getting ready for beach season.

For me, giving up bread for Lent is less about religion and more about beach season.

Then again, if Catholics had to replace every slice of bread with communion wafers during the 40 days of Lent, and I saw a friend willingly consume the tasteless disk of starch, I’d probably think she was crazy too. But a communion wafer doesn’t come close to matzo on the utility scale.

Matzo’s chalky tastelessness and sturdy physical presence make it a great vehicle for anything you could possibly want to stack on top of something before you eat it. Peanut butter and honey. Chocolate and caramel. Smoked salmon and chives. Aged Gouda and ham. A slab of butter.

Or you can crumble it into stuff, like soup.

Matzo’s lack of flavor means it doesn’t interfere with what you really want to eat. Its crunch is an appealing bonus characteristic.

As I unpacked my groceries and tried to make space in my pantry, it occurred to me that 10 boxes might have been excessive. Apparently, besides making a lot of crumbs, the big drawback to matzo is that it’s packaging doesn’t fit in a breadbox.

Maybe if the boxes of matzo fit in my breadbox, it'd be less obtrusive in my kitchen.

Please Pass the Gravy, or: Please Mum, I Know it’s Thanksgiving, But Not Another Turkey!

Cranberry Relish? Can eat it all year.

I know, I know. What I’m about to say is un-American. Sacrilegious. Blasphemy in its definitive form. But I can’t pretend any longer: I hate turkey.

Cranberry relish? Can eat it all year, goes particularly well with pork. Mashed potatoes? God’s food. But turkey? If it’s not semi-synthetic and deli-sliced on my sandwich, accompanied by sharp mustard, gouda, and bread & butter pickles, then I’m not interested.

“My mother’s turkey was always usually good,” my own mother said, trying to convince me that the oversized poultry really is delicious. “Except for that time she put all the cayenne pepper in the stuffing. She was a lot like you — always experimenting in the kitchen.”

I never knew my grandmother, but clearly, she and I were a lot alike. She understood what I understand — turkey is bland and needs all the help it can get. She may have been heavy-handed with the cayenne, but she meant well.

The one good thing about turkey? Being able to drink wine in front of the fire while it roasts... and roasts.

Butterball.

Organic.

Free range.

Wild.

Organic Free Range.

28 pounders.

12 pounders.

There isn’t a bird on the market at any weight we haven’t tried and tried again. Some have more “turkey taste” than others, but even after tons of culinary TLC, all have proven a disappointment.

There have been test turkeys in October and re-test turkeys in early November. Sometimes, we walk away hopeful. Most of the time, we end up with a lot of unsavory leftovers (thank goodness “turkey is bad for dogs” is an urban legend.)

We've produced many a turkeys worthy of a Rockwell painting, few worth remembering as an entree

We’ve bounced from method to method, hoping something would finally produce a succulent dinner centerpiece.

For years, we clung to the “tent and baste” system in which my father slathers butter all over the bird, creates a tin-foil tent to shield it, and we all take turns basting it on the hour. But after several rubber-like final products, we began to experiment.

  • There was the brining experiment gone terribly wrong. The garbage bag leaked in the fridge, spreading salmonella-laden water over all the vegetables and side dishes. There was only turkey that year. And far too much of it.
  • We then tried the cheese-cloth soaked in wine and butter method. Wine and butter are flammable when not properly watched. Luckily, we keep a compact fire extinguisher in the kitchen for just such incidents.

Over the years, some of these approaches undoubtedly produced a bird worthy of a Norman Rockwell illustration, but all resulted in an entrée better left forgotten.

I'm good at homemade ravioli. Can't we just have those for Thanksgiving?

The best turkey we ever made was the result of an extended hospital stay – my mother broke her rib while vacuuming. The whole family rushed off to the hospital where we passed the next 7 hours. Luckily, before we left the house, we turned the oven down and quietly forgot about the turkey.

“Mum, can’t we just have a chicken this year?” I asked as we stood at the holiday order counter at Whole Foods.

“No. You want stuffing don’t you?”

To this I could of no retort. Thank goodness I’ve at least mastered the art of a delicious gravy.