Food & Drink

They say it’s the thought that counts, but some gifts are stinkers

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I can measure the stages of my life by gift-giving occasions.

Right out of college, in the early ’80s, everyone was getting married. That was the Corning Ware period, which also featured delving into china registries and matching towels.

Next, the stork sprinkled birth announcements in my mailbox like confetti. Time for kitten-soft miniature blankets and itty bitty onesies – in yellow or green. I refuse to succumb to the pink/blue baby-industrial complex. Among other reasons, I’ve hated pink ever since my mother Scotch-taped pink bows to my bald baby head to identify me as female.

Now, those babies, the children of friends and relatives, are getting married. But the old gift choices are out like stale wedding cake – which, today, might be gluten-free, vegan or made from fair-trade ingredients.

Once, I attended a wedding where the bride had made her own vegan, gluten-free wedding cake. It was such an earnest effort, but the poor cake looked like a cow patty, bless its heart. I didn’t have a social conscience about my wedding 35 years ago. I just wanted the cake to match the bridesmaid dresses and bouquets.

I’m glad now that my mother was so obsessed with having me keep a list of the wedding gifts I received. I still have it, and it offers an interesting contrast to the kinds of kitchen gifts popular today. The list also reminds me that, as Spencer Tracy says in the classic 1950 movie “Father of the Bride,” when there’s enough gifts, there’s always a stinker.

My list includes numerous baking dishes, a steam iron, kitchen towels and utensils, from people operating on the old assumption that a bride hadn’t already been living on her own. I had been for a while, but I’d stocked my kitchen with cheap yard-sale finds, so anything new was welcome.

One shower gift, a glass cheese dome engraved with my husband-to-be’s initial, was an early candidate for stinker. I didn’t change my name. We’ve hardly ever used it, but for reasons that elude me, we still have it. The plate part is nice, at least.

The indisputable winner of the Ultimate Stinker award is described on the list as “frame and candle holder.” I remember it vividly. It was an oval frame in maple with a small candlestick, both of which were attached to a flimsy stick. The stick was embedded in an unstable base. The candlestick could rotate around the frame, lighting it from the back or front, if the contraption didn’t fall over first. That thing, we don’t have now. It didn’t even stay around until the ceremony.

I know. It’s the thought that counts. But it looked to me like the thought going on with that gift was: “What do I have in the back of the regifting closet?”

Do couples ask for steam irons anymore? An iron probably would be considered a stinker unless the recipients were into life hacks and planned to use it to make grilled cheese sandwiches. Registries today have separate tech categories, including things which didn’t exist when I got married, like immersion sous vide cookers and the Instant Pot. If you believe the cult-like followers of Instant Pot, the appliance can replace the entire downstairs staff of “Downton Abbey.”

My favorite wedding gift was a charcoal grill from three coworkers. It was square, had a shiny black lid and wheels, and was a glorious advance from the cheap hibachi that I’d been using to carry on my father’s grilling gene. It came with a poem that I have, regrettably, lost, but I remember that it began: “We thought of a sewing kit, we thought of a thimble, but agreed on this grill. What a pain to assemble.” (They were reporters, not poet laureates.)

I loved that grill, despite my mother’s complaints that it was a grossly inappropriate wedding gift, like the set of expensive German chef’s knives I received from a high school friend. The grill she merely sneered at as “something more for the groom,” ignoring the fact that I’d been lighting fires and cooking over them since junior high school.

But she went absolutely nuts about the knives. She insisted that I had to get rid of them right away because they were bad luck. According to her extensive mental catalog of superstitions, they would cut my relationship.

I’m still using those good Wusthofs. Still have the husband, too. If you keep things sharpened and don’t treat them harshly, they last.

Debbie Moose is a freelance food writer and cookbook author. She can be reached at debbiemoose.com, Facebook or Twitter.

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