Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Alice Powell

Meaning of `favorite' often changes

“Favorite” just may be an overworked word when we are buying gifts or even planning menus. How accurate are we when we are picking out an elephant for Uncle Joe on the assumption that the animal is his favorite?

How long ago was it that Uncle Joe expressed an interest in an elephant collection and that the neighbors tuned up a music box when you visited? Ten years ago, maybe longer.

Can you believe that Uncle Joe now has so many elephants that he hates them?

With showers, graduations, and anniversaries on our calendars, gift buying at this season seems to run a close second to Christmas. We rack our brains for just the right thing, but sometimes we may be spinning our wheels.

As an example, for at least 30 years, I was certain that my cousin Joyce was crazy about malted milk balls. I am not sure where I got the idea, but it stuck to me so firmly that I have shipped her cartons and boxes of the chocolate-covered sweet from distant places as well as from home.

She always said, “Thank you.” After all we were raised to have good manners.

Then last summer when I presented her with another couple of pounds of the candy, with a card, a ribbon, and with pleasure, she dismissed her shyness and said she never really did like them.

Never liked them! That couldn't be true. I was shocked and for about 30 seconds didn't believe her testimony. If so, why hadn't she said something 20 years ago? I could have saved my energy scouting for them, then shipping them.

The answer is because she is polite. She didn't want to hurt my feelings. If we lived in the same city I would have seen the malted milk balls piling up on her coffee table, but miles apart I didn't know the difference.

With that as a good example, maybe it's time to take stock of the word “favorite” when we are shop-ping. Perhaps it's not necessary to go to 10 different stores to buy an animal-shaped teakettle just because once upon a time your friend said that one she received with a giraffe neck handle was the favorite thing in her kitchen.

How about the people who rave about cookbooks? They don't cook, but they just love to take a cookbook to bed to read the recipes and imagine what the dish would taste like. Stop and think: They probably have an overabundance of cookbooks. Opening one more would be disappointing.

I know how it goes at gift time. Telephone calls between circles of family and friends ensue. What are we going to do about a gift? He has everything. She doesn't need a thing. You can't walk through her house anymore.

He has always been crazy about plaid shirts. The decision is made, and sure enough, the birthday guy opens five boxes of plaid shirts and tucks them neatly into the bottom dresser drawer with the ones he received last year because he no longer likes plaid.

We can also be guilty of misfit food favorites, like the malted milk balls.

Take as an example the gumbo that a sweet daughter-in-law with a New Orleans background has been making for her husband's mother since they were married five years ago. The mother-in-law continues to compliment the young cook, but in confidence tells a friend she would be happy if she never saw another bowl of gumbo. The spices tear up her stomach.

Do I have a favorite solution? No, except that once you get the message, remember it.

No more malted milk balls for Cousin Joyce.

Mary Alice Powell is a former Blade food editor. E-mail her at

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