Stressed out by holidays? Zeppole may do the trick

December 08, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

I was shopping one recent evening in the Weis Market in Abingdon. Everything was fine and relatively quiet. Fish sticks were on sale. The broccoli looked fresh. The woman behind the deli counter smiled and called me "Hon."

Then, I pushed my cart into the dairy section, and something happened.

Eggnog happened.

Eggnog in cartons. Eggnog in jugs.

I get the willies when I see eggnog.

Early eggnog.

I know it's December now, and we've even had some snow already. It's been beginning to look a lot like Christmas since September. But I'm not ready yet, and I hate being rushed.

Eggnog in the store makes me stressed about the holidays, and life is bad enough, what with all the pressures of modern life (and now the breakup of Valerie Bertinelli and Eddie Van Halen. )

There should be a disclaimer on every jug of eggnog: "Best if used after Dec. 23."

In fact, that should be the disclaimer for the holidays: "Best if celebrated on or near the holiday."

Nordstrom has this cool policy - no Christmas decorations in its stores until after Thanksgiving.

Beautiful.

But just about everywhere else, the December holidays have been in full force since before Halloween.

I saw a sign for Christmas trees in Odenton in early October.

Yesterday, a co-worker spotted me by the elevators and said, "Happy holidays."

I looked at my watch, which gives the date as well as the time. It was Dec. 7.

"Happy holidays"?

Sorry. I'm not in the mood yet.

Some people are so efficient about everything having to do with the holidays that they lose their sense of the holidays and spontaneous celebration.

You know the type, don't you? They're your task-oriented type A's. They're so clever, so organized, so predictable. They're the ones who buy Christmas cards on sale every year right after Christmas, tuck them away, and, after they've made a huge Thanksgiving dinner for 14 friends and relatives, they pull out the Christmas cards and start signing them and addressing envelopes, and they get them in the mail the next day so they arrive at your door before you've eaten the last of the leftover turkey.

Who needs this kind of pressure?

People of Earth: I know I speak for many of you, no matter your religion, when I say that this whole holiday season - this let's-be-jolly push toward the end of the year - has become way too stressful. Some of you get tired just thinking of all the things you have to do - all the money you're expected to spend - in the next couple of weeks.

Take my advice and chill.

Less is more. Dare to be different.

Here's a list of suggestions.

1. Do not do holiday cards until after Dec. 25. Instead of scribbling out superficial greetings in haste - or merely signing your name - wait until after the Christmas rush, sit down with a bunch of cards, a good pen and a cup of something warm and write out New Year's greetings instead.

2. Do not send e-mail greetings for the holidays. They'll just make you feel cheap and crummy, and you'll get depressed.

3. Do not engage in grab-and-spend shopping. Think small, specific and different. Say you've got about 10 people on your gift list. Buy one gift per person per day, wherever your day happens to take you. Small and meaningful can be more appreciated than big and expensive. I have a friend who will brighten at a good cigar; another who will be happy with a pile of guitar picks; another who likes martini olives stuffed with garlic; a daughter who is to shampoos what Robert Parker is to wines.

4. Don't ignore the little store. Think outside the big box. When you're driving home from work, visit the little hardware store and look for an unusual gift. Try an antique store. On North Howard Street about 10 years ago, I found a wooden statue of St. Gerard for a cousin by that name, and it was something he came to cherish.

5. Don't forget to cook something simple to share with friends and neighbors. I'll give you an easy idea that your family will love and your neighbors will find unusual: zeppole. It's Italian fried dough. You have to make this at a time when most of your neighbors are home, so you can make delivery while the zeppole are still hot. If you don't like making your own pizza dough - and, trust me, it's easy - then you can go to most pizza shops and ask them to sell some. Bring it home, let it sit for an hour, roll small pieces of it by hand in the shape of 6-inch crullers, and fry them in oil. Once they puff up and brown, remove them with tongs, let them drain on paper bags, then move them to paper plates and send them out to your neighbors a batch at a time. Smearing them in honey or powdered sugar is optional. Smiles - I guarantee smiles all through the neighborhood.

6. Don't forget charity, and don't just write a check. Do something. There are plenty of shelters and transition houses where men, women and children far less fortunate will spend the holidays. You and your family can show up at these places with personal items all the residents can use - gloves, socks, shampoo, books, magazines - and just knock on the door and hand them over. Or you can bring a big plate of zeppole. The smallest acts leave the biggest impressions - don't forget.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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