Sunday, December 8, 2013

Homemade pickles? Must be Christmas in Maine

On Friday night we had our annual holiday office party. It was the usual wild, raucous bunch with the inevitable carousing our group is known for. I didn't get home until after 10. Crazy.

Last year was the first time a male, a partner in our firm, was invited to join our gathering of five women. He drove up from our Connecticut office to celebrate with us, prepared to party the night away with the whole gang. 

That night everyone was pulling their coats on and parading out the door by 9:30 p.m., leaving our bewildered out-of-state guest holding his wine glass with no volunteer tour guide for clubbing in Portland. I considered it a late night by Maine standards.

And then there is that matter of gifting in Maine, which can be rather... unique. So if you're from - oh, say, Connecticut - you might not get it right away. Oh, but you will in the end.

Here are a few clues he may have picked up on to that effect:

1) The evening began with an amazing array of wines and hors d'oeuvres followed by a beautifully prepared dinner  - at my boss's home - which was our preference over an impersonal restaurant setting. We tried a restaurant one year, complete with limo to get us there (in the middle of a snow storm). Final outcome? There's no place like home.

2) He had just opened gift bags filled with homemade pickles, jam, and cookies, and alpaca socks. No, really. 

3) Every one of us was yawning by 9.

He came back this year. I kid you not. I believe what determined his return was that he was hoping to receive another jar of "the best freaking pickles I ever had" in his loot again.

This time he was not the only man invited, as our first male employee had started this year, so at least they could find a corner in which talk football loudly when the conversation took its typical slant toward children and female issues. We are totally nondiscriminatory in our choice of topic.

I do have some guilt over cheating this year with my gift giving. By this I mean I didn't make anything - my presents were store bought. For the past few years I really got into baking goodies like mint chocolate chip cookies, buckeyes (lots of peanut butter), Italian wedding cookies, and snickerdoodles, all placed carefully into brightly colored Christmasy cookie tins wrapped between red and green tissue paper. It usually means two or three late nights the week of our party, but it's well worth it knowing mouths will water when they open their packages.

Being an arm flailing Italian, my specialty is more along the lines of lasagna and homemade pasta sauce. Baking is kind of a new thing for me (yes, my mother baked Italian cookies every year during the holiday season but I was not allowed in the kitchen because I was a mini-tornado - don't judge) and I've come to enjoy it this time of year. But cookies have become more of a challenge now that we have vegan and gluten free party participants. My cabinets do not consist of limited menu baking items. I don't own xanthan gum. I don't even know what it looks like or where to find in the store. Does it come in a pack? Can I get it by the cash register next to the Trident?

As for gluten free, the buckeyes were basically the only cookies that didn't have flour, and as much as you or I would be fine with a cookie tin full of buckeyes (I'm sorry, did someone say they don't like that much peanut butter? I shun you.), I was pretty sure our gluten free-ers would not.

I opted for chocolate (and wine for the vegan who got ripped off with only a few pieces of dark chocolate) and nuts. Mind you, this was not just any dark chocolate, it is made right here in Maine at a very well known chocolatier (fancy word for unbelievably good candy shop). They even had a gluten free list to guide me, thank goodness. And the nuts are of the slow roasted and specially seasoned gourmet variety also made here in Maine. So I didn't just run into Target on my way to the party - I did think it out.

Still... I missed having something to give that I had actually created.

It hit me as I was on my way home this year with my hand crafted wine charms, homemade granola, pickles,  jam, and several other really great gifts, that we are a lucky bunch. Not all presents we give and receive are necessarily made by the gifter, but they are meant to be personal in their own way. That's unusual enough in a world where we are inundated with strategic marketing for The Next Big Thing and forced to deal with recycling five pounds of store flyers (I weighed them) in a newspaper just before Black Friday, which has now sadly insinuated its way into Thanksgiving Day. Even more unique is that the people I work with are paying attention to who I am, and that to me is the greatest gift.

I suppose I could take up knitting or glass blowing before our next holiday party. But I think I have another idea based on my other well recognized talent.

Personalized Italian arm flailing lessons.

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