Most folks are probably queueing up the shenanigans of a young Macauley Culkin or Peter Billingsley to watch with family over the break, but my preferred flick for the festivities is one that’s holiday-lite. Wayne Wang’s Last Holiday stars Queen Latifah as Georgia Byrd, a meek single woman who doesn’t really start living until she only has weeks to live. She promptly sells all she has, including stocks and bonds, and heads to the Czech Republic for the titular final voyage. Georgia goes all out, securing lodging at the ritziest hotel in Karlovy Vary so she can meet her idol, a chef played by Gérard Depardieu (forget about him for a sec). She takes every chance she can, whether it’s BASE jumping or playing roulette. LL Cool J plays her crush who chases her to Europe to—guess what?—tell her she’s not actually dying. It’s pure, distilled wish fulfillment that also happens to peer into my heart at the In The House/Living Single fan fic therein. [Danette Chavez]
Bon Appétit’s Frozen Grand Marnier torte
I’ve been making the same Christmas dessert for the past 10 years now: frozen Grand Marnier torte with dark chocolate crust and spiced cranberries. The recipe as a whole is somewhat time-consuming. You need to make the crust—although it’s not as anxiety-inducing to make as a pastry crust, if you or your relatives live in a town where there aren’t any gourmet grocery stores and therefore no chocolate wafer cookies (the horror), you’ll have to buy a pack of Oreos and spend some time scraping the white gunk out of each one. There’s also the custard-based filling, which must be cooked over a double boiler and attended to somewhat closely lest you scramble the eggs. You’ll need a candy thermometer, or at least a seasoned eye, for that too. The spiced cranberry sauce is fairly foolproof, though it will, like everything else, need to be made the night before or morning of. And yet. And yet this is the best dessert I’ve ever made. Despite the very rich filling (there are, count them, eight eggs in there, and two whole cups of heavy cream), its flavors are perfectly balanced. A half cup of sour cream cuts through all that heavy fat, and there’s the citrus brightness of the liqueur, the crunchy chocolate crust, and the tart and spice of the cranberries. And because even the thinnest slice of it sates, this one is good for a crowd. It’s a commitment, certainly, but it’s an elegant end to a meal that bests any pie I can think of. [Laura Adamczyk]
1950s holiday shorts
When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, my little brother and I always tried to cram in some early morning viewing of the Garfield Goose And Friends show on WGN. The goose was a puppet who wanted to be king of America. It’s less funny now that we have an actual one of those, but 7-year-old me found it hilarious.
This time of year, about the greatest thing that could happen during this morning viewing was an appearance of three seasonal favorites. “Hardrock, Coco, And Jo” and “Suzy Snowflake” were early versions of the stop-motion animation that Rankin-Bass would bring to the holiday canon in the 1960s. The third short, “Frosty The Snowman,” offered an unusual animated take on a classic. WGN was one of the first stations to premiere the shorts in the 1950s and subsequently ran them for years.
Limited to black and white, these three pieces carry a dark tinge. But that’s what makes them stand out from today’s candy-colored perspective, and it adds a certain degree of charm. “Frosty” is sung a cappella, backed only by brushes, adding some jazz-inspired vocal percussion. Hardrock, Coco, and the deep-voiced Jo help Santa as he sails off into a bleak landscape. Suzy Snowflake is almost completely solitary as she floats amidst a variety of hand-carved snowflakes, tapping on windows. The puppetry was created by the short-lived Centaur Productions, run by Wah Ming Chang, a Chinese-American sculptor and special-effects pioneer. After Centaur failed, he wound up creating creatures for Star Trek and movies like The Time Machine. The Santa in “Hardrock, Coco, And Jo” is said to resemble the creator himself.
These pieces of early TV history are now in Chicago’s Museum Of Broadcast Communications. They’re also, fortunately, available on YouTube, where they offer a charming and unusual look into Christmases past. It could just be the nostalgia talking, but I still find them as hypnotic as I did when I first saw them decades ago. [Gwen Ihnat]