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Try poking fun at these holiday food staples "Unless you entertain extensively, a great big can of popcorn is going to turn stale fast."

What will be the new fruitcake of 2006?

We all know the jokes about this prime Christmas dessert, do we not? Just mention the word "fruitcake" -- which some people really like, by the way -- and everyone automatically guffaws.

Call it a culinary knee-jerk reaction.

With a new year on the way, we think it's time for a new re-gift to ridicule. It wouldn't be the holiday without some culinary joke, but the fruitcake is tired.

Below, please find my suggestions. These are strictly personal, so don't send me any indignant e-mails, please? (I would be interested, though, in your own personal disastrous nominations.)

* The fruit basket. OK. OK. Some fruit baskets are delightful, I concede. But most are not. New York State apples? Fine. Oranges and grapefruit? Terrific.

But barring these, the fruit seems to have been arranged in a basket because it's just a pretty face. Sad to say, the selection is usually made up of exotic fruit picked well before its prime in some far distant location.

* Fancy jellies and jams. Oh they do look so cute in their little red and white checked doily pack. But how many sweet spreads can a normal person eat, I ask you.

Take a look in your fridge or cupboard and you'll see what I mean. How many unopened or half-opened jars are sitting there?

* Ten-pound (or more) packages of snacks. Unless you entertain extensively, a great big can of popcorn is going to turn stale fast. And almost any other crisp snack will do the same.

Tip: if you get large quantities of shelled nuts this Christmas -- very popular this year because of Atkins and South Beach -- better put them right in the freezer.

* Creative liquor. As is the case with some restaurant menus, some people simply try too hard. Example: A promotional bottle of pomegranate vodka just crossed my desk (very quickly). A truly awful idea.

What is it supposed to be used for? A debased martini?

* Strangely filled chocolates. Thank you Forrest Gump, we all know that life is like a box of these things but how far out can a chocolatier go? Jelly filled candies have always been a disaster in our house, usually nibbled and left at the bottom of the box.

But it has gotten worse. This year we have huge chocolate-covered apples, impressive to look at but hard to eat and a flavor disaster, as well. The two tastes simply do not complement each other.

Another example: those oh-so-cute little chocolate "bottles" that are filled with booze. Maybe in a more innocent time, they were supposed to be "naughty," and I think they are the invention of the National Cleaners Association.

More importantly, here too, the flavors "fight." Why spoil good chocolate? Why spoil good booze? Liqueured chocolates don't do either their coating or the filling any favors.

Fruitcake, move over.


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