I returned home from work late the other evening and an unspeakable horror met my eyes.
There was a panettone sitting on my kitchen counter.
For those of you unfamiliar with this traditional Italian (originally Milanese but now ubiquitous) yuletide cake, it looks rather like a plump, burnished-brown cupola. Or a squat, toasted chef's toque. Or a giant, megalomaniacal cupcake. It is typically studded with candied fruit and is --unless you get a really good one--probably the most unimaginative, boring, dirt-dry, holiday dessert you're ever likely to eat. But, in any event --and this is really the crux of the matter--it's supposed to be served at Christmastime. Mere custom, of course, being of no consequence to my mother-in-law (she of the demure woollen skirts, thick support hose, size 10 men's clodhoppers, and hoard-mentality), who was without a doubt responsible for the abomination.
For a second I just stared at the thing, stunned, while it sat there in all its tawny malevolence, and my mind did some quick calculations. Was this one of last year's leftover panettone? Or the year before that??? Or, if I were to examine its packaging, would I find the expiration date as sometime soon after the Protestant Reformation??!! Then I realized--egads!--she's already stockpiling them for this year!
I'd heard rumors that some of the supermarkets were already carrying Christmas items, and you see, dear Readers, my mother-in-law suffers terribly from POCD--Panettone Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She can't help herself. As soon as they hit the shelves, she methodically makes the rounds of all the supermarkets within a 15-mile radius, gathering discounted panettoni, and squirrelling them away god-knows-where. She's hasn't the slightest interest in quality--she lives for the rock-bottom, two-for-one, bargain-basement panettone--it's all about quantity. (Forget the true Christmas message of selfless giving, forget that there are millions of people starving in the world--she is determined to build a bunker of hoarded panettone and barricade herself within, a shriveled Eva Braun clutching a plastic shopping tote and her tessera sanitaria).
This mite of a woman--who normally never ventures beyond the confines of the neighborhood--will actually board a bus in her quest for €1 cakes. During the month of December, she is always seen humped-over and carrying a panettone or two--along with kilos of mandarins, dates, and walnuts, in preparation for the Yuletide Onslaught--returning home from her shopping expeditions far afield. To facilitate her obsession, she cadges all the fidelity cards of everyone in the neighborhood in order to score the best deals on panettone in every supermarket chain in the city. She does this without shame.
And she typically starts serving panettone at every meal (that is, breakfast, lunch and dinner) from Christmas onward, desisting only for a brief hiatus around Pasqua (when she begins hoarding colomba--the dove-shaped Easter cake). Summer usually sees her dishing out an alternating mix of panettone-colomba, supplies of which only tend to exhaust themselves sometime around the Feast of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (This may or may not be coincidence: I'm sure if Mary ate that much panettone, she could only have ascended into heaven with the aid of a forklift).
|"My kingdom for a panettone!"|
What to do with the damn thing, I asked myself? I toyed with the idea of carving a jack-o-lantern out of it, lighting a candle inside and such--but I was afraid it would caramelize and then explode in a shower of candied citron and raisins. So instead I attached this note to its jaunty cellophane wrapper and, under cover of darkness, stealthily and summarily dumped the thing on her doorstep:
"Dear Madame: please remember that I am a CHRISTMAS CAKE, who particularly resents being foisted on heathens* well before the Anniversary of the Birth of His Most Excellent Lord, Our Saviour Jesus Christ. Your cooperation is most appreciated. In dulci jubilo, etc. etc."
Yours in all the spirit of the season,
Campobello (the Wicked Witch of the Jest)
* We weathered my mother-in-law's full-watt, passive-aggressive displeasure not long ago when we informed her in no uncertain terms that our son would NOT be going to catechism this year (since we ourselves don't go to Mass and generally think the Catholic Church is just another kind of mafia, or Baywatch with cassocks). She moped around with a muso lungo for three weeks.