• How special is it really?

    The thing we tell ourselves about holiday food is that it’s special! We don’t get this stuff on a random sunny Tuesday. We wait all year for it, right?

    Well, maybe.

    Last week I visited a market on the bottom floor of the Twitter building, the kind built to serve the rich-in-money, poor-in-leisure tech employee. In other words, it’s a bougie-@** market stuffed with best-in-class items and I could have bought every single thing in there. Because it was all so very beautiful. 

    (See drinking chocolate from Hungary above. Designed to sit on your shelf forever, just looking adorable.)

    I did almost buy some chocolate caramel-covered shortbread, because like everything else in this carefully put-together store, it was designed to seduce me with its unnatural beauty. Each piece of this shortbread was a perfectly square chunk, with a thick, absolutely uniform layer of caramel on top, and on top of that, a lovely dark, thick and again amazingly even layer of chocolate ganache.

    Reader, this shortbread was extremely compelling to me. Not so long ago, I would have bought it and cheerfully paid the $10 they were asking. Because it was so, so beautiful. And rich looking. And perfectly formed. And golden with the promise of delight and deliciousness. Very, very special.

    Here’s the thing though. Although that confection was made of everything I hold most dear in a foodstuff, and the finished product looked like purest perfection, it wasn’t technically special. Maybe for the first time ever, I broke it down and saw that, yes, it was all my favorite things. Butter, flour, salt, sugar and chocolate. (Perfect really!)

    But there are many, many things in this world made of salt, butter, flour, sugar and chocolate. That’s like half my recipe collection right there. And I don’t have to eat every example of this flavor combo the world has come up with. 

    So when we say something is special, it might be useful to analyze exactly what part is special. And what made those bars special was their perfect platonic form. Which is to say they were really good to look at.

    No doubt they tasted phenomenal as well. But we are all going to have many, many opportunities in this lifetime to eat butter, flour, sugar, salt and chocolate together. I think we could say countless opportunities. 

    The point is not that you should only eat rich food if it’s something you’ll never see again. The point is that if you’re telling yourself that Aunt Esther’s cookies are really special and you have to have some of those and Aunt Jackie’s pie is really special and you have to have some of that and your Gran’s fruitcake* is really special and how could you not have that, well, you wind up having a lot of things that are nice, and delicious, and perhaps quite compelling - but not, in the end, all that special

    * Not a fruitcake joke. I never joke about fruitcake. Anyone who thinks that fruitcake = comedy has not been to my house at Christmastime and should come over this year to have their mind blown. 

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