The Horrors of Holiday Food


            People, we need to talk about holiday food.

            I know what you’re thinking: “The holidays are over! Don’t make us rehash holiday hash!”

            Yeah, well, these days you’re never far from the next holiday. We have to nip this problem in the bud, before we’re all eating rosewater Valentine soup.

            (Yes, I’m late posting this column. Like the TV networks, I dropped everything important and fun in favor of the Olympics.)

            It used to be simple, if strange. Pumpkin cookies at Halloween. Cranberry sauce and stuffing at Thanksgiving. Eggnog at Christmas. Spice flavored crap here and there. (Not literally crap. Ew.)

            It was, quite frankly, food most of us wouldn’t even think of consuming any other time of the year. But during the holidays it was a “special treat” that somehow we felt duty bound to try despite our better judgment.

            Most holidays have some questionable variation on this. Much as my brother and I liked to blow things up as kids, we didn’t consider going out looking for fireworks once Independence Day was past. New Year’s Eve party hats look ridiculous on January 2nd, especially once the wearers sober up. On Halloween we get away with stuff nobody even tries the rest of the year, unless they’re in San Francisco or a Washington, D.C. hotel room.

            But now it’s out of control. For instance, in late summer last year Starbucks started selling Pumpkin Spice Latte.

            I’ll leave off the debate about whether latte, by itself, it inherently ridiculous.

            Dunkin’ Donuts pimped its pumpkin products in September. Brueggere’s Bagels has a pumpkin bagel. A pumpkin bagel! Oh, the humanity.

            Now, some of this doesn’t bother me much. After all, it’s a free country when it comes to food, as long as you escaped the spice scented reach of the Bloomberg Administration. You want pumpkin yogurt? More power to you; as far as I’m concerned, yogurt joins buttermilk among those items that I refuse to taste because it’s impossible to tell if they’re spoiled.

            But come on. Pumpkin Pringles? Ice cream? M&M’s? Good ingredients are being wasted. There’s only so much chocolate in the world.

            There’s pumpkin-spice flavored vodka, and a beer made with pumpkin and cranberry juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I suppose, as with the non-holiday version of those products, they taste better the more you drink.

            If you’re full but still craving, you can get a pumpkin scented room deodorizer. You’ve long been able to get holiday spice scents, although the eggnog scented candle wasn’t a huge success.

            Once Christmas approaches, you can leave the pumpkin and go to eggnog, which at its best is enriched in some nice, holiday buffering booze, and at its worst makes people violently ill. After all, it’s got milk, cream, and whipped eggs in it. And, of course, you can get it with pumpkin spice.

            If you’re not careful, it’s a recipe for a sweet treat and a sour stomach. I’ll stick with hot chocolate, because … hey, chocolate.

            But people love eggnog, to the extent that you can now get it in cupcakes, marshmallows, cake mix, bubblegum, popcorn, and of course milkshakes. You can even get eggnog flavored candy corn, thus taking you all the way through the fall and winter holidays. Next they’ll be dying it green for St. Patrick’s Day.

            And why do people go for all this stuff they wouldn’t touch in June? White chocolate peppermint Pringles? Gingerbread shakes? A turkey shaped ice cream cake? (Although still – it is ice cream.) White hot cocoa lip balm?

            There’s also roasted turkey Doritos. Perfect for that college kid who can’t make it home for the holidays, or someone who’s been smoking some questionable green leaf and doesn’t much care what flavor his snacks come in. Or both.

Found in an Indiana college's parking garage. I assume the owner abandoned it in favor of turkey with the family.

            I’ll give you milk chocolate Lays potato chips, which at least combine two “normal” flavors. But pumpkin soup? Pumpkin martini? Shaken, not seeded.

            Turkey and gravy figgin’ holiday cola???

            As for fruitcake, no one has actually eaten any in all of recorded history. Oh, some people claim they have—but they’ve never produced proof. The truth is, the same dozen fruitcakes have been exchanged across the country every holiday since fruitcake was invented in 1866, by a guy who was drunk on eggnog.

            (I kid. The first fruitcakes were “consumed” by Romans, just before the empire fell. Coincidence?)

            Personally I’ll add to the list of weird holiday food: candied yams, which are just wrong, and cranberry sauce, which only exists in this dimension from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Also banana nut bread ice cream, which I realize isn’t so much holiday only, and certainly beats the heck out of pumpkin spice Eggo Waffles.

            “Leggo my pumpkin spice Eggo!”

            “Um … ok, it’s all yours.”

            Well, every flavor has its advocates, and it’s not like I don’t enjoy questionable snacks. I used to eat salted pumpkin seeds by the ton. At one point my blood pressure was higher than the national debt, although they’ve since traded places. Still, I think I’ll pass on the idea I once read, to stir cranberry and ginger into mayonnaise, making a holiday themed sandwich spread. It goes on pumpkin bread, I assume.

            I’ll stick with the basics: Fudge, no-bake cookies, and my personal choice in foods that are holiday only and a bit ridiculous when you think about them: peanut brittle. I can break my teeth and stop my heart at the same time!

            Sheesh … I gained ten pounds just writing this.

Girl Scout Story Blurb

I foolishly asked everyone to vote on a title for my “Girl Scout” novella without actually telling anyone what it was about! So here’s a quick blurb, which might very well find its way to the back cover:

            Fifteen year old Beth Hamlin is horrified to discover her beloved summer camp must go without campfires this year, thanks to the fire hazard from a drought. At first she and her friends try to perk up the other campers, but Beth isn't one to just sit (or swim, or boat, or horseback) around, when there's a challenge to be met.

            Beth discovers her new cabinmate, Cassidy, knows a local Cherokee who claims the ability to do a rain dance. Now all they have to do is trick the Camp Director into letting Running Creek do the dance there, avoid the local bully and a flying arrow or two … and keep from getting caught plotting with the local fire captain on a forbidden cell phone. With luck southern Indiana will get a nice, soaking rain, and when it's over Camp Inipi can have proper campfires again.

            But when things go horribly wrong, the whole area is endangered by a double disaster. Now Beth, Cassidy, and the rest of their unit may be the only people who can save not only their camp, but everyone in it.

            When Beth's big brother told her being a teenager could be rough, he probably didn't have this in mind.

            And here’s the Facebook poll on the title, if anyone’s interested:

What Do You Call A Girl Scout Story With No Girl Scouts?

            Okay, so this YA “Girl Scout” novella I’ve been working on is almost ready to go, and it has no Girl Scouts in it.

            (That’s for legal purposes. This organization is my own invention, and the fact that some of the proceeds are going toward the Girl Scout camp my wife worked at is completely coincidental.)

            So, since the Girl Scout story has no Girl Scouts, I should probably give it a title. I brainstormed, writing down a list of a couple of dozen potential titles, which is what I sometimes do when I’m stuck for one (which is all the time).

            The story revolves around 15 year old Beth Hamlin’s misadventures when she gets to camp and discovers they can’t have any campfires that year, due to a drought. She and her friends work to keep everyone’s spirits up while also taking steps to make it rain—steps that lead to disastrous consequences.

            Some of the titles I came up with were discarded because they gave clues about things that happened late in the book, so those were the easy ones. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to tell you what they were.

            Others were a bit too bland: “The Year Without a Fire”, “Rain Dancing”; or dependent on wordplay: “Weather … Or Not”, “Where There’s Smoke, It’s Dire”.

            Some titles the reader wouldn’t figure out until they’re well into the story:

            “If You Don’t Like The Weather …”
            “Dance, Wind, And Fire”
            “Don’t Kill The Messenger”
            “They Don’t Listen To Teenagers”
            “Totally Not An Emergency”
            “Four Friends and a Drought” (A little shout-out to a fanfiction series of mine.)
            “Riot Prevention Badge”

            For you “Walking Dead” fans (and only you will get it) I found a title that fit the story and was also a shout-out:  “Heroic Stuff, Dangerous Things”.

            Two titles I discarded because they referred to a supporting character, and would be considered un-PC to our more delicate readers. I just didn’t feel like arguing. But the character, a half-Cherokee owner of an Indian-themed souvenir shop, also appears in a YA mystery I’m trying to sell—and will refuse to be silenced.

            Toward the end I got a little silly:

            “If You Like Your Weather, You Can Keep Your Weather.”
            “Mary Potter and The Rain Dance Of Doom.”

            Sadly, the story doesn’t have a character named Mary Potter.

            When I was done winnowing the list, which I believe is also a dance move in Philadelphia … there wasn’t much list left. This is what I ended up with:

            “Have a Safe Summer”
            “Who Keeps Singing?”
            “Best Session Ever”
            “No Campfire Girls”

            They speak to the story and Beth’s character. Emily was leaning toward “No Campfire Girls”, which left me wondering exactly how that title would go on the cover. We don’t want people to think we’re banning Campfire Girls, for instance. It could be:

            “No Campfire, Girls”
             Or, “No-Campfire Girls”
            Or maybe an emphasis with bigger letters or italics: “No Campfire, Girls”.

            So, what do you think, Title-wise? The Girl Scouts are counting on this … even though the story’s not about Girl Scouts. Honest.

Fifty Authors from Fifty States: Delaware – Sometimes It’s The Small Things – Angel...

Fifty Authors from Fifty States: Delaware – Sometimes It’s The Small Things – Angel...: We’re small but we’re an oddly independent little state. Take Caesar Rodney… Oh, you don’t know who that is? Or you do, but only a...

Former Olympic Events Left Fans ... Confused


I won’t dwell on the problems with getting the Sochi Winter Olympics ready in Russia, mostly because I dwelled on those last week. Instead, let’s look at some past Olympic sports that are no longer in the games.

Most recently, baseball and softball were pulled from competition. The American women dominated in softball, while in baseball Americans … well, they only got three medals in five tries. The Cuban team grabbed the gold. There’s not much else to do in Cuba, except play baseball and stare longingly toward Florida, to where senior citizens have high speed internet and all-you-can-eat buffets.

Lacrosse was a medal event—in 1904 and 1908. It involves people in facemasks hitting balls with big fly swatters. It died out in the early 1900’s because only the Canadians, British, and Americans were willing to take the punishment; former lacrosse players are now employed as dog catchers and butterfly collectors.

Basque pelota was only a medal event in 1900, because nobody could figure out how to pronounce it. It’s played on a court with a ball, sometimes using a racket, but sometimes not.

In other words, it’s handball. If they’d called it that, basque pelota-ites would be on Wheaties boxes.

Tandem cycling was popular in the Olympics from 1920-72. It’s being considered again with new, more interesting rules: The guy in front steers, while the guy in back can lash out at other competitors with lacrosse sticks. It’s now a favorite of retired hockey players.

Winter pentathlon was a difficult event, although the Russians might beat that with their new one, team gay-bashing. In 1948 winter pentathlon was put on as a demonstration sport, and consisted of downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, shooting, fencing, and horse riding.

All together. In the same event.

Sweden, which remained more or less neutral through World War II, had a whole army of young men just itching to shoot something: They swept all the medals. However, the sport was discontinued after ski-clad Swedes on horseback shot all the competitors’ horses while jumping over the fencing.

Motorboarding was tried in 1908, and ended with only one boat finishing in each of three races. It turns out the Swedes used their winter pentathlon rifles to shoot up the other boat engines, leading officials to change to rowing.

Polo was a favorite Olympic event in the early 1900’s, but it was canceled after the Swedes sent in their entry forms.

The Olympics also tried an obstacle course … involving swimmers. Competitors had to climb over a pole, go over a row of boats, and then swim under another row of boats. Luckily they had an excess of boats left over from the motorboat races.

Speaking of swimming, in 1984 they tried solo synchronized swimming.

Think about it.

Then there’s the one Olympic sport I actually participated in: Tug of war. Not in the Olympics, but we won, and didn’t even have to borrow Swedish rifles to do it. Between 1900 and 1920 the sport was dominated by Great Britain, which sent teams of police officers. And remember, back then the cops were unarmed. Good thing the Swedes didn’t have a team.

Distance plunging would have been interesting … or not. Athletes would dive into the pool and coast underwater, without moving.

That’s it. The winner is the one who drifted the longest in sixty seconds, or when they floated to the surface, whichever came first. An American won the gold, although it should be noted that this competition happened only once, in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. It should also be noted that only Americans competed.

I’m not sure how they could tell whether the athlete was winning, or drowning.

Also at St. Louis, another US competitor did an impressive job winning the gold in a sport that gives this old gym class hater nightmares: the rope climb. Why was George Eyser so impressive? Because he had a wooden leg.

In 1906 they tried the sport of pistol dueling. No, it wasn’t won by a Swede. It wasn’t really dueling, either: Competitors shot at a dummy dressed in a frock coat, and by dummy I don’t mean the guy who planned the Sochi games. It’s a good thing they cleared up how they did it, because I was thinking this would be one sport where the silver and bronze medals were awarded posthumously.

Finally, here’s a sport they tried just once, at the 1900 Paris Olympics:

Live pigeon shooting.

When the feathers cleared, a Belgian named Leon de Lunden got the gold for downing 21 birds, none of which had a say in the matter. Then he celebrated with a steak dinner.

Once the onlookers got a look at the mess left behind, they decided the Swedes weren’t so bad.

book review of "Camera Obscura"

My review of Camera Obscura, by Rosanne Dingli:

“Rich storytelling, but someone slap the protagonist.”