WITH ALL this mincing holiday talk of malevolent toys and war in Iran and U.C. fee hikes, some of us just want a little luxury around the holidays. (Some of us also deserve to be well and roundly slapped.) But for those who don't want to pronounce "quinoa" when at table or for whom that extra lap around the track just ain't worth it or for whom cotton has ugly, frugal connotations, we herewith offer our shortlist of once-a-year stuff to die for.
WHY IT'S WORTH DYING FOR This rich delicacy is so controversial that owners Guillermo and Junny Gonzalez finally had to close their Northern California storefront due to threats on their very lives from animal rights activists. Their free-range ducks are raised in the traditional French manner and are treated with the highest standard of humane treatment. While, yes, the animals are force-fed, it's important to remember that ducks ha0ve no gag reflex and that their throats are naturally flexible, making them able to swallow large fish in order to survive in the wild.
But forget all the PETA crap. What we're after here is consuming enough melting calories of pure duck foie gras—seared and napped with a lovely cherry chutney, spread fresh over toast points or even tucked naughtily into a fresh-ground kobe burger—that just simply keeling over onto a bite-free plate is worth it.
Artisan Foie Gras retails online for $50 a pound, a "lobe" (try not to think of liver's physical geometry) typically weighing 1.3 to 2 pounds. Each tablespoon of the stuff has about 60 calories, only nine of which do not emanate from the goodness of adipose. Artisan Foie Gras also sells rendered duck fat by the pound for a mere $6.50, and if you haven't yet had your fries Frenched in hot duck fat, you are not indeed ready to keel onto a bite-free plate. www.artisanfoiegras.com.
KILLER APP There's never a better time to die like a 19th-century poet—mad and frothing and bitter and young and beautiful and stained a slight greenish hue—than during a Bush administration. Taken in thoughtful amounts, chances are even you won't. Best of all, it's illegal.
WHY IT'S WORTH DYING FOR Homemade absinthe is quite the rage among those who live slightly off the grid in tree-heavy areas, or who just like to boil shit up while muttering, "Wormwood, wormwood," à la Hamlet. The flavor of homemade absinthe, particularly when distilled by someone who understands herbology, is only slightly medicinal and deeply layered, beginning with the light green hyssop of new grass and descending on the palate through the entire green catalog until one comes face-to-face with the storied fairy. The effect of a small glass of it cut with sparkling mineral water and enlivened with pure white sugar is like having a tiny hit from a pot pipe. Lawd knows you can still cook dinner or do the laundry, but sitting in a chair gazing up at all of those off-the-grid trees is the preferred ingestion position.Homemade absinthe requires a small home still (the Internet is lousy with directions on building your own or purchasing from those mad cats in Kentucky), high-proof alcohol like Everclear or Bacardi and such herbs as fennel, anise seed, lemon balm, hyssop and wormwood. Instructables.com offers detailed directions replete with images of what your homemade Romantic Poet Swill should look like as you go; it also displays the skull and crossbones symbol when it gets to the point where this stuff mixes with fire. The very online Ms. Jekyll (find her at absinthe.msjekyll.com) gives recipes and lore as well as a curious recurring image of a beautiful woman in too much green eye makeup with a butterfly on her lips. Homemade limoncello is so last year. This year, give 'em a blast of Byron. Best of all, it's illegal.
KILLER APP When one's clean naked body is entirely swathed in loomed goat's throat hair (yes, the highest quality comes from the goat's throat, a terrific brand name), it's extremely difficult to subsequently put on Lycra items or those warm-up clothes fashioned from recycled liter bottles and go exercise. Indeed, once the cashmere is on, it's rare that it comes off—particularly as it's so expensive to clean. You risk atrophying entirely while wearing it.
WHY IT'S WORTH DYING FOR We're pricing these babies out in the mid-$400s full-price and "on sale" online in the mid-$200s, but what's money? It never bothered Napoleon, who reportedly gave his second wife, the Empress Eugenie, some 17 cashmere pieces during their marriage. Not only did the woman live to be 94 (obviously he never gave her a robe), but her great elegance and wool-clad beauty so moved the groundskeeper at England's Bournemouth gardens that he lit her way to the healing waters each night with a trail of small candles, a tradition that still occurs each summer for women wearing far less goat's throat loom.
If we were buying these in real life and forever forswearing exercise and "career casual," we'd toy with purchasing from the pashmina emporia otherwise known as www.boutiquejewels.com.
KILLER APP This is a plant that you control by shaping with wire and cutters, denying its full horticultural potential at every turn and yet, if you do everything perfectly—tending and shaping and cutting and denying—it'll outlive you by a good century. The irony, the karma, the full-circle joke alone is priceless.
WHY IT'S WORTH DYING FOR We hope that we're not the first to break the news, but you are going to die anyway. Spending meditative time forcing nature itself to your own petty will has proven to extend life spans enormously. Plus, with bonsai, there's so much to argue about! The categories, the technique, the masters … the list is endless. Discretionary income can just sluice from your hands as you tend to and acquire new bonsai, all of which—we labor to repeat—will flourish directly on your grave.
So why not get all your friends a-clipping? Bonsaiboy.com out of New York starts its unusual 48-year-old neri elm at $800, with a mere $95 needed to ship the thing cross-country. But a starter kit, replete with its own 3-year-old juniper just aching for soil, is a mere $24.95.
Bonsai folks go nuts about bonsai but tend to do it in that way that mild cult members go nuts: with clear, steady eyes, glowing skin and genuine smiles revealing well-cleaned teeth. That's a positive. The inevitable compulsion to exhibit at the county fair is an easily tolerated negative.
Because it won't, after all, kill you.