It’s happening again. Only a few hours into December 1st, yet I can already feel the centrifugal pull of Holiday Madness. For those of you blissfully unfamiliar with this sensation, I described the symptoms in great detail last year. For the most part, Holiday Madness symptoms include clammy hands, Jingle-Belled nerves, and a plastic smile involuntarily tattooed across your face.
However, I have discovered a new –and deeply disturbing— catalyst for the disease: Cyber Monday. I am immune to Black Friday. The promise of an inexpensive XBox doesn’t seem worth the effort of waking at 3am, risking mutilation in a stampede and –gasp!—missing first dibs on Thanksgiving leftovers. I once held CyberMonday with the same disdain. That is, until this year, when I paired this corporate-mandated holiday with charitable giving. A lethal combo.
My family has always been a big proponent of sponsoring Christmas for needy families. My uncle would pick up children’s letters to Santa at the Post Office, and distribute them to his friends and family. Then, on Christmas Eve morning, we would all convene to distribute the gifts through various neighborhoods in New York City. No one loved playing Santa more than The Jeanne.
Yes, we were noble indeed. However, like every other activity involving Mom and I, our Christmas Eve deliveries were more “I Love Lucy” than “It’s A Wonderful Life.” We drove all over the Bronx, inevitably getting lost, thus incurring the verbal wrath of many a Merry Christmas Traveler. One year, we accidentally mixed up the presents between two families. When we returned to correct the error, Mom was enfolded in a giant bear hug from a very thankful female recipient. Since this woman spoke only Spanish, Mom had no way of explaining the confusion. Nor did she need to. This family was happy enough with whatever was in their gift bag.
Today, I sponsor families through an organization called Stockings With Care. Not only do I adore the folks at SWC, but they run a far more efficient operation than my family. (Sorry, Uncle Will) So efficient, in fact, that our gift donations are due during the first week in December. Ack! Must start buying gifts for three children and have them wrapped (with my children acting as elves) by December 8th! Welcome Madness.
I then realized that the multiple CyberMonday deals arriving in my inbox could enhance my efforts to bring Christmas to our sponsored families. Granted, this epiphany arrived at 10pm, just two hours remaining in this special day.
Within a few minutes of surfing, I felt like I was in the middle of a really difficult math exam, the kind with those twisted word problems. “If Amy visits Website A, she will get a 30% discount and a donation to her favorite charity. However, if Amy chooses Website C, another wonderful organization will benefit and she gets free, fast shipping. Which Website should Amy choose?” A vortex of philanthropic, economic and logistical permutations swirled around me. That’s all a little intense for 11pm on a Monday night.
Then there was the technology, which I always screw up, prompting me desperately to shout for my husband. (If computers are in heaven, I am pretty sure I will be hollering “Jeff!!” for all of eternity. Lucky man.) Jeff, being the math guy that he is, spotted several problems with the billing. Apparently 30% off $300 does not equal a $12 discount. Who knew?
I closed my computer at midnight, bleary eyed and hoping to God I had ordered “Sleepy Time with Dora,” and not “Sexy Time with Dora.”
At least I got dinner right. With so many choices to contend with online, I relished cooking a go-to menu. Known as Spicy Chicken, this quasi-Indian rub is a favorite with my kids. This time, I introduced a little Swiss Chard into the mix, simply using the same to pan to create a deglazed sauce. Here’s how it works:
SPICY CHICKEN AND SWISS CHARD
Adapted from SuperFast Weeknight Dinners
1 Tablespoon olive oil plus one teaspoon for Swiss Chard
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 crushed clove of garlic
1 large head of Swiss Chard
¼ cup white wine
1. To prepare chicken, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Combine coriander and next 5 ingredients (through 1/8 teaspoon black pepper), rub evenly over both sides of chicken. Add chicken to pan, cook 5 minutes on each side or until done.
2. Add one teaspoon of olive oil to same pan over medium heat. Cook for a couple of minutes. Pour in wine and turn heat to medium high, scraping bottom to deglaze. Bring to boil, and keep boiling until liquid is reduced by half. Add Swiss Chard and cover. Cook until wilted.