The Endangered Flavors of Christmases Past

With the red cup crisis of 2015 passed, a true Christmas catastrophe yet looms: Time-honored tastes from Christmases past are in danger of extinction, forever lost from the hors d’oeuvres plates and family feasts of future generations.

The list of most-endangered holiday-time flavors?:

1) Eggnog: This spicy beverage blend of egg, cream, sugar, egg, cream, sugar and spices perhaps took its fatal blow in the health-crazed ’80s, when cholesterol was enemy No. 1. Today, we have Islamic terrorists and/or climate change for that.

Yet, the sumptuous, frothy glass of eggnog never made its comeback — even though vinyl records have. Spiked or straight, and even removing the egg and most of the nog from modern blends (whatever nog is, we don’t want to know), eggnog to this day remains at high risk.

2) Cranberry sauce: A longtime staple of Thanksgiving and Christmas alike, this dish is too often sacrificed for the latest feast fad.  Maligned as neither a dessert nor a savory side, it’s nonetheless an essential flavor for tying together all others in sweet-and-sour harmony: turkey, stuffing, and potatoes and gravy, all on a fork with cranberries at the same time. Yum!

Aggravating its demise is a run on cranberries for other products; similar to ethanol putting a strain on once-abundant corn grain, cran-everything: drinks, teas, candies, lip balms and skin exfoliants — have robbed the dinner table of this once commodious treat.

Culinary historians mark the advent of canned jellied cranberry sauces in the mid-20th-century as the apex — and the beginning of the downfall — of this dish. Perhaps because, when that jellied cylinder is sliced and served, it closely resembles another endangered flavor: Beets

3) Beets: This red-hued holiday dish, best served not at all, could pass into eternity and like the mosquito, would not be missed, but would definitely be noticed. With great cheer.

4) Gingerbread: Long synonymous with Christmas, this treat in recent years has been moved aside to make way for its blander cousin the sugar cookie — the Wonder Bread of Christmas flavors. Even gingerbread houses have been made from grahams for at least a generation.  The deep flavors of molasses and ginger are too strong for today’s pabulum palates.

5) Sugarplums: The original gummy treat, these sweet, fruity, sugar-coated spice drops are the Christmas equivalent of a Werthers from grandma’s purse — too uncool even for the hipsters to adopt. So sad.

6) Nuts: A carved bowl full of in-the-shell peanuts, pecans,  walnuts, hazels and filberts used to be set out shortly after Thanksgiving, alongside the wreath, tree and other Christmas trimmings. These were mostly enjoyed by the menfolk of the house, with kids volunteering to crack the nuts as a sort of off-season firecracker.

My guess is that the labor involved in this treat — once the fun of explosively opening the nutty packaging, you must patiently pick tiny slivers of nutmeat from deep crevices of the shell — brought nuts their due fate. That, and also the pain of finding a shell shrapnel on the floor with a bare foot — a pain similar to, but inconceivably worse than that of stepping on a Lego.

We can’t take any of these treasured tastes for granted; licorice is already extinct. Even peppermint could find its way onto the list, supplanted by more common flavors of chocolate or the novelty of sour gummy worms.

Together, we must stem the tide before it’s too late. Do your part to save — by savoring — these threatened holiday flavors. Lest we forever change the meaning of the season.

Copyright 2015


Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

Feedback: The Perfect Gift


Businessman shakes present to figure out what's inside.

Didn’t get the gift you really wanted under the tree this year?  Or from your boss or a co-worker?  As New Year’s comes around, make a resolution to ask for the perfect gift — the gift of feedback!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – a time to run around stores late into the night, looking for the perfect gifts to give to family, friends and even co-workers.  Workplace holiday gifts can be the most problematic – there are all those ethics rules, hierarchy sensitivities and office politics to consider.  How do you decide the perfect gift for an office colleague?

Though it’s somewhat of a management and leadership trope, for colleagues, arguably the best gift you can give – for the holidays or anytime – is the gift of feedback.  Maybe they’d rather have a coffee shop gift card or, “hint, hint,” maybe a promotion.  But feedback truly is the “bestest” gift you can give them, ever.  Here’s why:

  • Like Clark Griswold’s 1-year membership in the Jelly-of-the-Month Club Christmas bonus, good feedback “truly is the gift that keeps giving.”  To validate this point, just think back to valued feedback that you got years ago that you still use today.  I recall a senior leader applauding the quality of my work on a project, but advising me that getting it to her the night before it was needed didn’t give her enough time to review it and make use of it the next day.  The lesson – that 90 percent quality early is better than 110 percent quality late – has served me well in the intervening years.
  • Feedback enhances performance, and that’s great fun!  Of course feedback can be positive – praise is great fun to give and to receive, and when given it can reinforce desired performance and behaviors.  But often feedback needs to address a need, and as such, at first it’s going to be like getting socks and underwear from one’s parents.  But once they try it on and wear it, it’s going to feel like a superhero-costume Underoos or like those awesome Spring Shoes they’ve always wanted – it’s going to enhance their performance and agility and speed in the workplace like nothing else.  That’s a lot of fun, for the entire workplace family!
  • If done, right, it’s a perfect fit.  Feedback is like a new sweater – it’s got to be just right for the person getting it – not too big, not too small, not too heavy nor too light, not scratchy and in the right colors and pattern for the recipient.  And what’s perfect for Susie won’t at all work for Bobby.  Feedback is not a one-size-fits-all gift, and if attention to detail and tailoring to the exact specifications of the recipient are missed, it makes for a disappointed, confused and frustrated receiver.  Although you can’t really use a gift receipt to return feedback, if it’s a good fit for the recipient, they won’t want to.
  • The packaging that feedback comes in matters almost as much as the gift itself.  Some people wrap their gifts in the Sunday Comics papers.  Similarly, some managers try to use humor to soften the blow of difficult counsel.  But such feedback is a serious gift and shouldn’t be delivered with jokes, but rather with sober seriousness.  Alternatively, don’t be the one that takes a gift and puts it in three different increasingly larger boxes to trick the recipient into thinking he’s getting something different.  Don’t play games or beat around the bush with your delivery – just give it to them.  A nice, attractive paper with a simple bow to adorn it is best, meaning: keep your delivery simple, straight-forward and pleasant.
  • Give the gift on time.  I’m that guy that misses the U.S. Postal Service mailing deadlines; you’ll get your Christmas cards and packages from me in mid-January.  I’m just not that organized.  But for feedback to be useful to the recipient, you have to have your thoughts collected, and you have to deliver it in the appropriate season.  Cheeseballs and feedback are great when fresh, but once you get past the “best if used by” date, neither is any good for anyone.
  • Finally, like nothing else, the gift of feedback truly says, “I care.”  Surely you’ve been in a situation where you’ve wanted to call a colleague or a subordinate on the Clue Phone to give them some much-needed advice.  If it was someone you didn’t much care for, you probably took a pass on the opportunity.  Why?  Because there’s some risk in giving feedback – risk that it will be rejected, that you’ll hurt the person’s feelings.  There’s a lot of potential workplace drama that comes with those emotions.  So it’s just not worth it.  That is, unless you really care about the person.  For the recipient, it’s worth keeping this in mind, and a help to receiving the gift with gratitude and in the spirit it was given.  If someone’s taking time to speak honestly to you about an area for improvement, embrace the momentary suck and remember that this person is doing it because he or she cares about you.

What’s the best feedback gift you’ve ever received?  How has feedback benefited you in your work?  Why is it difficult to give – or to receive – the gift of feedback?

Copyright 2014


Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!