Happy New Year! I’m talking to you Chinese people….

I thought I’d share my favorite non-PC story involving my favorite Chinese friend in honor of today. I’m sure she won’t mind. If you are offended easily or think this is insensitive – please stop reading now. I totally understand. I once wrote a note to the New York Times condemning an Indian Cultural Day they had in Central Park called “Curry in the Park”. I was outraged that they would define all of the beauty that is the Indian culture and reduce it to a seasoning used in the food.  How dare they! They wrote back that it was, in fact, a showcase of Indian food. Oh. Anyway – I get it. Racism is terrible. But sometimes….it’s funny. On to my story.

Let me set the scene.

I worked in a very serious, very conservative private bank in New York City. This was the defining job of my career. All my biggest successes and f’ups happened here. It’s also where I learned the type of team that I wanted to be in (and lead eventually). We were hardworking, sarcastic, funny and silly. If you made a mistake in our team, you wouldn’t be walked through how to do it better – you would be teased and laughed at. There was no training or “on-boarding”. You just worked like hell to figure things out while the rest of the team rolled their eyes. It sounds rough. But it was amazing. You developed all the skills you needed to be a good planner – including the king of all skills – thick skin.

We were also quite a mixed bag. Cold, stylish leader without a heart? Check. Smart, creative Chinese gal who bordered on being mean? Check! Rich, Hermes wearing Euro daughter of a client? Put together, chic New Yorker with an accent? Check and check! And me, a married Indian gal with a baby in her late 20’s. Let’s just say we didn’t blend into a crowd.

Sorry about all the back story but you need to know this in order to really appreciate the situation. So because we dealt with billionaires and people who managed billionaires, the atmosphere in the office was always quiet and well-heeled. Except in our area. We were always laughing and shouting and eating. A mark of most good event groups. We also kept to ourselves most of the time – not that anyone was knocking down our door to be included.

Then, one fateful holiday season – it happened. Our guard was down. We were invited to join the secret Santa gift exchange on our floor. We decided to do it. We even decided to go to the party for the gift exchange. All of us. Except the head of the group who spent December in Prague or something. We were going to assimilate! At least for that hour.

We all shuffled into the conference room and pretended to be excited. One by one we opened our gifts. Oh look, the strange dude in graphics got me a cookbook. How nice. The lady in accounting got someone a candle. Charming. You get the point.

Then. Our Chinese gal opened the first of 2 gifts from her secret Santa. Hmmm. Geisha stickers. She smiled. We stared. We started to feel the corners of our mouth convulsing – we looked at the floor. We looked at the ceiling. We looked anywhere to avoid eye contact with her. We prayed the next gift wouldn’t be ethnic specific. We were wrong. She opened a box of Chinese rubber stamps. Ok – at least this was the right bucket of stereotyped gift. (You say Chinese, I say Japanese…) There was no ill intent. The person meant no harm. But we were all dying. Literally bursting at the seams laughing. We never participated in a gift exchange again. True story.

I know what you’re thinking. How awful – that person should have been reprimanded. Oh no. You didn’t go to HR for this stuff. You thanked the Gods that this happened so you could hold it over your co-worker’s head! That’s how we rolled.

For months after we talked, relived, re-enacted the moment. It was like a Christmas miracle to our team. It’s been 14 years or so since that day, and it still brings me joy.

Here’s to the year of the goat!

(Please note that the Chinese gal and I remain the closest of friends and she had to help me remember some details. I remembered the gift giver as a boy, it was a girl. I remembered 3 gifts. It was only 2. Thank god for her. Chinese people. They’re good to have around)

Nutty

Two years ago my sister showed up at Mother’s Day or Thanksgiving or Christmas – one of them – with a bag full of these spicy, sweet, salty nuts. They have a strange crack-like power on everyone who tries them. I decided to make a batch for our favorite aunt out in Long Island who takes our girl for a beach adventure every summer. In fact she’ll take any girls – all girls seem to be welcome. Boys too maybe. She’s good like that. She deserves some nuts.

This is the Smitten Kitchen recipe, quadrupled. Cause that’s how I roll.

4 Cups Nuts (any nut will do. Except the nut you’re married to), 1 egg white, 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar, 1/2 Cup White Sugar, 2 tsp Cinnamon, 2 tsp Salt, 2 tbs Cayenne Pepper, 3 tbs water.

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Combine the sugars, cayenne pepper, salt and cinnamon. Whisk the egg white with the water until frothy. Add egg whites to the nuts and coat evenly. Add the sugar and toss. 

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Spread evenly in one layer on parchment paper and bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before packaging. I made a batch of these last week to take to a picnic and found this cute candy bowl. The plan was to give the host of the picnic the nuts and bowl, but when he offered it back at the end of the night, I took it. I couldn’t help it. It’s so cute. The first batch of nuts I made were pecans, almonds, and walnuts. The clear winner taste wise in our house is the pecans – so that’s what I made today.

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Cupid is stupid

I’m just coming back from a week long work conference, physically and mentally just coming back.
I got home in time to see all the beautiful Valentine’s posts, read all the tweets of love and devotion, and see the Instagram shots of flowers and gifts. I love seeing all the love – but I could care less about the day. This got me thinking (in a Carrie Bradshaw kinda way)…
Am I dead inside because I don’t care about Valentine’s Day?
I know my husband doesn’t believe me, but I really don’t want to go to dinner tonight. Even after all these years he thinks it’s some sort of trap. I love flowers but I love them all the time. Not just today. And Forrest was right – life is like a box of chocolates – except you know exactly what you’re going to get today.
You know what I’d like for him to get me? Those bags from IKEA. The big blue ones that hold everything and cost 50 cents? I’d post pics of them all over the place.
Know what else he could do? Put the new shower liner on in the bathroom. If he did that I’d tweet a love sonnet to him (ok, a haiku).
Does that mean I don’t love romantic gestures? No. I just don’t want them or need them today – I’d like a rain check for a really crappy day in March if possible.
Cupid isn’t stupid. I’m sorry I said that. He’s just not my kinda guy.

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I love secrets

I got a lot of great gifts this year – I’m a lucky girl. Last night we did the final gift exchange with my family – there is absolutely no more gift giving and receiving after this. It’s over. Done. No more I tell you!

My little bitty sister gave me this really cool book I thought I’d share with you. It’s less of a cookbook and more of a nonfiction book about chefs. Right up my alley!

It’s full of beautiful photos and recipes, but it’s really storytelling about the chefs. What they do, why they do it and how they do it.

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It’s written with a sharp biting wit and doesn’t take itself too seriously, look at these hilarious quotes…

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The other cool thing about this book is all the wacky food the chefs make. In the world of Instagram and 24/7 food trucks – where everyone’s a foodie and Harissa and truffle oil are almost old school – I love reading about unusual food. Lebnah… Tasso … This is no everyday kimchi cookbook. There’s actually a line on page 267 that reads, “This is not a traditional baba au rhum, so purists, stand back!” Wtf?

Will I ever make it? Probably not. But I will sleep better knowing that there are people out there that do.

Ok – gotta go source some Kajmak cheese.

Faux Baking

It’s not really faux.
You do turn an oven on.
Our wonderful neighbors make this every year and I promptly stole the recipe.
Actually it’s more of a trick than a recipe.
But it’s so good and it’s so easy.
Here’s what you need 3 ingredients:
Small pretzels, Hershey kisses, and M&Ms.

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Preheat your oven to 175. See, told you it was baking.
Then spread your pretzels out on a sheet and put a kiss on top.

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Bake for 4 minutes and take out.
Add an M&M and smush down. Smushing is a technical baking term. Let them cool and done!

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Trust me, your people will be happy. Your people will love you. More. Finally.

Things that make you go….f**##%@!

Not a post. Just a thought.

Unless a store runs out of gifts (aka merchandise) – they should not run out of gift boxes.

To all those stores who try to “sell” me a box….for shame. FOR SHAME!!!

(I know many sad things have happened in our world and this is nothing. But I need to focus on something or else I’ll go mad!)

On Not Being a Grownup at Christmas – GUEST POST!

A big thank you to my little bitty sister for this great post! And look at those jazzy handmade stockings. Show off.
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Last week, while lamenting to my colleagues that I had no idea what to get my boyfriend for Christmas, we ended up having a long conversation about the family present exchange. That’s when I realized that, shockingly, I have some pretty strong opinions on the topic. So here is my Family Present Exchange Philosophy
(FPEP):
In our family, Christmas is about the presents. Once I explain, you’ll realize that that wasn’t the saddest sentence ever to grace this blog.
Our family – cousins, aunts, uncles, significant others – gets together all the time. We celebrate every little thing with a big family get-together, and for the most part, it’s great (tis the season to overlook the drama). American holidays, Indian holidays, Hindu holidays, Christian holidays: it’s all fair game. Next year there’s even talk of getting a menorah (we’re equal opportunity around here). And there’s always food, fun, and more food.
But there generally aren’t presents. Indians are all about the benjamins, which is practical and smart, just like we are. That’s why Christmas is so great (here comes my FPEP); to me, unlike gifts of cash, Christmas presents represent the time and thoughtfulness of the giver. I don’t really care if I’m getting another fondue pot or something from the Dollar Store. Cheesy at it sounds, it really is the thought that counts to me. This person went out of her way to think about what I might like, spent hard-earned money on it, and then wrapped it in pretty paper (Here my colleague, the globetrotting poet I share an office with, disagreed. She wished her big Irish Catholic family would just give her money, instead of the “crap I’ll never use” they usually give.)
But it’s not just the stuff. It’s the entire experience. I love opening presents. I love that we all move away from the TV and sit around the tree. I love the anticipation of finding out what’s under the wrapping, and heck, I love the wrapping too. I spend way too much time thinking about how I wrap my presents, and I like giving my family the presents I’ve spent my time making beautiful.
During this conversation at work, another colleague recommended that my boyfriend and I get something for our apartment – a shared gift. He and I had considered this option, but we decided it was far too grown up for us. We wanted the presents, however small and inexpensive, but full of thoughtfulness and love.
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