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An anonymous friend had been leaving me gifts at work to celebrate each of the 12 days of Christmas. All was fine and good for the first 11 gifts, which were thoughtful or fun, but the 12th gift wasn’t actually a gift at all. Inside the festively wrapped box was a photograph of someone I loved doing something they shouldn’t be doing and an extortion note demanding $10,000 in cash or that photo would go live on the Internet.secret-santa the point news

I stared at the note, my hands shaking and heartbeat racing. I quickly flipped the photo over, in case anyone came up behind my cubicle. It was shameful. I couldn’t let anyone see it. It might ruin us. I peeked at it again. Brian’s face was fully exposed to the camera, a silly smile plastered across his face. The action he was involved in was such a complete betrayal. How could he do this?

Summoning great calm, I filled my coffee and trolled around the office, peering over my co-workers’ cubicle walls, asking questions and pretending to be interested in projects and Christmas plans. Back at my desk, I felt defeated. I couldn’t figure out who was—as I was now calling him or her—my “Secret Santa from Hell.”

I slipped the photo into a plain manila envelope, grabbed my cell phone and made my way to the back entrance. It was too early for anyone to take a smoke break, so I had a privacy as I snapped an image with my phone and texted it to Brian. His ringtone shrilled within a few seconds.

He didn’t say anything beyond “Hey.” His guilt would be overwhelming but it was about to get worse. I told him about the blackmail.

The air escaped him like a deflated balloon. “That’s it. We’re ruined.” I could picture him sitting in the kitchen, wearing jeans, a t-shirt and Crocs, his hair hidden underneath a do-rag. He was awaiting the morning delivery.

“Maybe not.” I had worked in public relations for years, and even though Brian, who in a patronizing tone on several occasions called me a “Spinmeister” and said I could put a twist on anything, was about to see my talent pay off in spades. I quickly outlined a rough plan of action. I could hear him perk up as I went through the details. It might just work, and we’d avoid both blackmail and ruin.

Two days later, on the front page of the Food section in the morning newspaper was a large, color photo of Brian – the same photo from my final 12 days of Christmas gifts. It was a recent photo that showed him seated in a leather booth in a well-known Steakhouse with a half-eaten filet on his plate and a forkful of meat held mid-air. In the right context, it would appear the silly smile was actually mocking the carnivore.

Next to the photo was an article penned by the food editor herself, based off a news release I had put out the day before. I brought in extra copies of the morning newspaper. I posted the article and photo on the outside wall of my cubicle.

I never learned my Christmas blackmailer’s identity, but two months later, I received a promotion to vice president of public relations, specializing in crisis communications.

LOCAL VEGETARIAN CHEF ASKS, WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Sherri Dirasoli, Food Editor

I expect the diners at Eden, the area’s favorite vegetarian cuisine dining spot, will shout back, “Not here!” when asked if they want meat on the menu. Eden is known for coaxing plenty of flavors from its ingredients to create luscious vegetarian cuisine. Chef Brian Teller is now challenging customers to show their true support of vegetarianism for a good cause.

Teller, owner and chef extraordinaire at Eden, announced he’s hosting a fundraiser for Green Leaf Co-Op. But it’s a fundraiser with a twist.

He has created two menus—one vegetarian and one carnivore—and it’s up to diners to choose if meat will make its way through Eden’s kitchen and onto the plate.

“We want the community to come out and show their support for Green Leaf Co-Op. They can do this by donating for either menu, but we’re expecting NOT to cook a carnivore menu,” said Teller with a twinkle in his eye.

This fundraiser is one we’ve never seen in this town, and it’s for a good cause. The Green Leaf Co-Op is a non-profit organization that works with local high school students to promote organic farming. All proceeds will benefit the new community garden planned for the city’s Garden District near Sixth and Norwich.

Meat lovers can make their opinion known too. Donors can vote for either menu option with a monetary donation at the restaurant or online through the restaurant’s web site. Whichever menu gleans the highest dollars by January 20 will be served at a special dinner in February. The eight highest donors and a guest will be treated to a private dining experience.

Our chef’s hat off to Brian Teller. This kind of innovative thinking is what keeps our interest in the culinary field high while benefitting the community. Oh, and for the record, I’m donating for the vegetarian menu!

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