“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
–Norman Vincent Peale
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
3-d, books, business, business dinner, China, Chinese customs, Christmas, Cones, dining etiquette, dinner, drinking, family, Festivus, food, gifts, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, moustaches, Padma Lakshmi, Pasma Lakshmi, poppyseed pudding, Slovak, Toasting, traditions, Ying and Yang
The first time I traveled to China, our Beijing office made sure our U.S.-based team was prepared to conduct business. Our staff wanted to spare us any embarrassment as the Chinese take their business meals quite seriously. The information on dining etiquette was especially helpful as business is often conducted over a meal, and that week was packed with luncheons and dinners. (*See tips at end of article.)
The University of Wisconsin – Madison earns a well-deserved reputation for drinking, but I’ll bet businesspeople in China could give them a run for their money. Drinking and toasting during business dinners is priority one, with wine as the drink of choice. For example, if your host ‘slams’ his glass, all at the table must follow. I don’t think anyone on my team ‘drank til they dropped,’ but we gave it our best in honoring the Chinese traditions.
There’s no doubt traditions are important. We’re now at the height of the holiday season, and most people will celebrate in one way or another – Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus.
One of the traditions I brought back from China to my family was the toast. When so many people are seated around a table that you cannot tap glasses with everyone, you ‘knock’ the bottom of your glass on the table several times, to indicate you are toasting with everyone.
We also have several traditions passed down from generation to generation. If your family is anything like mine, some revolve around food. In my mother’s family, we gather on Christmas Eve to eat a traditional eastern European (Slovak) dinner. During the years, the meal has undergone slight alterations. By a nearly unanimous vote (Grandma as the only nay), we eliminated one of the least favorite dishes–the poppyseed pudding. In the words of Padma Lakshmi, “Poppyseed Pudding, please pack your knives and go home.”
Other traditions have remained intact. One began only decades ago. After the gifts are opened and the torn wrapping paper and discarded bows cleaned away, we eagerly await one item. It is the final gift that probably means more than all the other gifts combined.
These are The Cones.
The Cones are Victorian-era designed 3-d cone boxes, marked with initials and filled by the dinner host. They only come out after the family sings our original ‘Cone Song.’ The small inexpensive gifts, usually from the dollar store, are a fun way to conclude the evening’s festivities. Some years the items are purposeful – one year we received tiny books, each one appropriate for the receiver. Other years the item is general – two years ago we all good-naturedly sported black moustaches, some also using them for eyebrows. It’s always a delightful way to end the evening.
Whatever your family does to celebrate the holidays – traditions, impromptu events or just calling to say hello – I wish you all the best in happiness, peace and joy for the New Year.
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.
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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I’d like to reintroduce myself to you as it’s been at least 15 years since you’ve been to my home. I think when I moved into my own place, my address might not have been updated – or perhaps it was incorrectly recorded – because the gifts stopped appearing. I’m envisioning a big holiday database that needs updating, because both St. Nick and the Easter Bunny also seem to have overlooked me as well. I understand in these difficult economic times that staff is stretched thin and not all tasks are regularly attended, so I wanted to make sure you have my current address. (There’s no need to pass this on to the Tooth Fairy, as thankfully I no longer have that need!)
My other thought is that maybe I was bad for a couple of those years and so you put me on the ‘naughty’ list. I can’t really argue that. There was a while when I just decided to throw caution to the wind, go a little crazy and be a bit selfish and indulgent. I probably wasn’t a joy to be around either. But I have cleaned up my act – honest I did. And I thought that maybe you would start coming around again, even if it was to drop off a few briquettes of charcoal. I’d take anything just to know you’re still in my life and we can continue our relationship. I know you don’t really owe me anything but as I still believe in you, I don’t think I should be denied.
Plus, I truly have cleaned up my act. I swear less at bad drivers on the road, I am really patient behind people who still write out checks at the grocery store, and I even sit quietly and attentively while people tell me the same story three, four or even five times. In my mind, I tell them I’ve heard the story before, but I don’t say anything out loud. Well, not every time.
So, if there is a chance for us to renew what we once had, you’ll find that I don’t really ask for much. Not like the old days when Barbies, dolls and toys topped the list. I’m much more practical these days. For instance, I would really love a new dictionary and thesaurus. (Yes, I still love books, in case you were wondering and I read two or three a month. I’m still writing, too!) And on that note, if you could find me a publisher for one of my books, that would be the ultimate gift and I wouldn’t ask for anything for like another five years.
So Santa, I truly have missed you. I hope you are doing well and I will see you soon. Like next week. Safe travels!
All my best,