The No-Fuss Feast

Whether you're a lazy boy or a hungry man, holiday meals are ready when you finally are.

Surprisingly enough, America's ambitious commercialism hasn't entirely swallowed the food element of the holidays into its monoculture: There is no one-size-fits-all holiday dinner depot where you can choose from assemblage options like extra-value meals, with china and silver included—where all you have to do is heat and serve, sit and eat, and with this minimal effort have given thanks and praise. It may well be that such a thing will never come to pass. Perhaps cooking is like churchgoing for most: The "twice-a-year" plan seems about right. Or perhaps people are genuinely sickened by the inundation of Pok魯n, the three TV networks, or Microsoft, and they sincerely want to make their own unique holiday meal. But what about those of us who are lacking in skill or creativity? Fortunately, grocery stores are well prepared. Our food suppliers have drawn out various game plans for us, from modest to elaborate, saving our hides for one more year as we bow our heads to rifle through our wallets. The only food item specific to Hanukkah is the latke, a potato-onion cake fried in oil and served with applesauce and sour cream. The objective of this dish, as with all traditions, is less gustatory pleasure than time-consuming preparation, with the grating of potatoes serving as a way to elicit whole-family participation. Thanks to the wonders of science, though, tradition can be honored in the breach: There are powdered mashed potatoes that take minutes to prepare. And if you just want to pick up a few to take home and nuke, Kosher Delight (1509 First, 682-8140) prepares latkes with the freshest ingredients, even offering tofu sour cream as an accompaniment. Just heat and serve, piously. But the big ham of December is Christmas, which comes complete with Santa photos, colored lights, music, TV specials, and an overwhelmingly discouraging pig-out consumerism. It also brings out the big turkey in all of us lazies who weasel out of cooking for the big get-together. Safeway has a three-pronged meal plan for the seasonally indolent who need to serve four to eight people; as a bonus for the financially challenged, it's the cheapest option we surveyed. Their Turkey Dinner includes stuffing, cranberry sauce, seasoned mashed potatoes (that's the Safeway seasoning, thank you), turkey gravy, a dozen "Party Flake" dinner rolls, and pumpkin pie for $24.95. You could upgrade for $5 more and go for either the Spiral Ham or the Prime Rib Dinner; both come with mashed potatoes, ham gravy, corn casserole, a dozen rolls, and an apple pie. You can save $5 on all these options with use of the Safeway Club Card. Trader Joe's doesn't have a delicatessen, so it concentrates its prepared-foods efforts in the refrigerated section. Hors d'oeuvres like petite quiches start at $2.99, duck goes for $7.69 a pound, and jars of caviar range from $1.99 to $17.99. Joe's also has the holiday sweet tooth's favorites: Panettone for $5.69, Stollen for $2.99, and Pfeffernsse, those divine powdered German cookies, for $2.99. But beware, last-minute shoppers at the Queen Anne store (100 W Galer, 378-5536): At prime hours the aisles are packed with slow-moving shoppers; expect increasing congestion as Christmas approaches. If anyone can successfully monoculturalize holiday feasts, taking the "home" out of the "home-cooked meal," it will be Larry's Markets. It's the type of place that has a phone line that says "Press one to hear our latest offerings; press two to speak with someone," and then recites the list of its latest offerings while you're on hold. The Larry's plan for the holidays is complex and multileveled, featuring everything from takeout to tablecloths. Larry's can provide you with all you need for your six-person holiday meal—turkey and stuffing, potatoes, plates, side dishes, serving spoons, and so on—for around $150, depending on how many types of dishes and dishware you want. At www.larrysmarkets.com, you can find ample information about their prepared foods, rental, and catering business. The Internet, in fact, has marked the advent of a whole new variety of laziness in American culture; never has the body had to move so little to accumulate so much information for the mind (or debt for the credit card). In the area of traditional holiday meals, HomeGrocer.com wheels and deals with "Buy a Ham, get a free Turkey!" offers for $52.11 (restrictions apply: The offer, for instance, is for Thanksgiving only). They also offer a few recipes of their own, the ingredients to which you can buy through their site (although that means you'll have to cook—sorry). The Pear Ginger Cranberry Sauce ingredients go for $12.09, and the Sweet Potatoes with Apples and Sausage components cost $16.71. ChefShop.com's items are a bit more expensive because it offers a fine collection of such French and Italian items (words and pictures of them, anyway) as Chocolate Covered Figs for $29.99 and Dolce Degli Angeli Panettone for $22.50. For dinner they offer such recipes as Vegetable Pot-Au-Feu, featuring their Beaufor Extra-Strong Dijon. But you have to come up with the coup de gr⣥—the turkey or ham—yourself. There's a big drawback to this on-line fin-de-si裬e food plan, of course: You have no idea what the meal looks like until it arrives at your door. You have to rely on words on a computer screen to get you salivating in advance. Oh, brave new world, and what marvelously lazy people in't! Brian Goedde is a freelance writer in Seattle.

 
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