News of the Week: Best Books of the Year, the Whipped Cream Shortage, and the Search for a Good Fruit Cake

Great Reads

Every December, when the “best books” lists come out, I discover that I haven’t read any of the books that are picked. I’m always a year or two (or ten) behind when it comes to the big, hot books, if I read them at all. One of these days I’m going to read Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 novel The Corrections, I swear!

This year you’ll see a lot of books repeated on many of the lists, like the Saturday Evening Post list from the editors at Amazon, which includes Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, Michael Chabon’s Moonglow, and T.C. Boyle’s The Terranauts.

The New York Times’ top 10 list includes Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Stefan Hertman’s War and Turpentine, and Ian McGuire’s The North Water. Bloomberg’s picks include The Course of Love by Alain de Botton, Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We’re Wrong? (hey, I read that one!), and Robert Gottlieb’s Avid Reader. NPR has an interesting list, with such books as Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo, Commonweath by Ann Patchett, Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson, and Ruth Franklin’s Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Over at USA Today they have a list of the best food and beverage books of the year, while The Washington Post picked the best mysteries and thrillers.

The one book I keep seeing mentioned as one of the best of the year is Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. I’m going to pick that one up. And in addition to picking it up, I’ll even buy it.

There’s a Whipped Cream Shortage

In the grand scheme of things, a canned whipped cream shortage might not seem like the most important of scarcities, but the reason behind it is rather interesting.

There’s actually a shortage of nitrous oxide, used to make products such as Reddi-Wip, because of an explosion at Airgas’ Nitrous Oxide Corporation plant in Florida back in August. Whatever nitrous oxide remains has to be reserved for use at hospitals and other medical facilities. Some supermarket chains, such as Market Basket in New England, are telling customers that there may be a shortage of canned whipped cream for your pumpkin pie and other desserts this holiday season.

Maybe this is a good time for everyone to remember that before whipped topping shot out of a can, everyone bought Dream Whip. Yup, they still make it.

RIP Alan Thicke, Bernard Fox, Joseph Mascolo, Joan Carroll, and Cindy Stowell

Alan Thicke will be remembered for his role as the dad in the ’80s sitcom Growing Pains, of course, but he had an interesting career before and after that. He hosted his own talk show in his native Canada and tried to repeat that success in late night in 1983 with ABC’s Thicke of the Night, but with Johnny Carson as the competition, it didn’t last. He also co-wrote several songs, including the themes to Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, and other shows. In the ’60s and ’70s, he wrote for such series as The Paul Lynde Show, The Bobby Darin Show, The Richard Pryor Show, and Fernwood 2 Night. He recently made appearances on This Is Us and Fuller House.

Thicke passed away of a heart attack while playing hockey with his son Carter, who costarred with his dad on the E! reality series Unusually Thicke. He was 69.

Bernard Fox played Doctor Bombay on Bewitched and was in movies like Titanic, The Rescuers, and The Mummy, along with TV shows like Columbo, Murder, She Wrote, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and … well, a gazillion others. He passed away Wednesday at the age of 89.

Joseph Mascolo played one of the great villains in soap opera history, Days of Our Lives’ Stefano DiMera, a role he played off and on for more than 30 years. He also made appearances on The Rockford Files, Lou Grant, Hill Street Blues, The Equalizer, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and movies like Jaws 2 and Sharky’s Machine. Mascolo was 87.

Joan Carroll was a child actress you might see on television this holiday season because Meet Me in St. Louis, the 1944 film she costarred in with Judy Garland, introduced the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” She was also in The Bells of St. Mary’s with Bing Crosby (she retired from the movies after that), Primrose Path, and several other films.

Carroll died on November 16 at the age of 85, but news of her death was just reported this week.

Cindy Stowell passed away from cancer on December 5, just a week before the episodes of Jeopardy she taped months ago aired. During filming, Stowell was in pain and suffering from a high fever (later discovered to be from a blood infection) and still beat the two other contestants to become champion. The show gave her a copy of the episode so she could watch it before she passed away at the much-too-young age of 41. Her friend, writer Jim Geraghty, has penned a nice tribute to Stowell.

Fred, Barney, Santa, and Peter

Last week we talked about the best Christmas songs, and the week before that I listed a few Christmas movies you might want to check out this month. Now let’s talk about that other art form, the TV commercial.

Maybe I’m nostalgic for an earlier time, but I love a lot of Christmas commercials. There’s the Staples ad where the dog gets wrapped up, the Fruity Pebbles spot with Fred, Barney, and Santa (Barney must be really cold because he has no shoes and he’s basically wearing a dress), and the Norelco ad where Santa rides down the hill on an electric razor.

But the ad below remains my favorite. Folgers used to run it every year, but they stopped a while back. I don’t know why they don’t run it every single year. At one point it was as much of an annual tradition as Charlie Brown buying the small tree and Clarence getting his wings:

This Week in History

Gone with the Wind Premieres (December 15, 1939)

The classic movie based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel and starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh premiered in Atlanta, Georgia. Here’s how MGM’s News of the Day covered the premiere.

Glenn Miller Disappears (December 15, 1944)

There has never been an official explanation as to what happened to the bandleader and two other men after Miller’s plane vanished over the English Channel, but many experts think he may have been accidentally bombed.

Wright Brothers First Flight (December 17, 1903)

It was Orville who took the controls of the first powered flight above a Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, beach. It lasted 12 seconds. Later that day, his brother Wilbur flew a distance of 852 feet in 59 seconds. Here’s Jeanne Wolf’s interview with David McCullough, author of last year’s number-one bestseller The Wright Brothers.

The 85th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade

On the East Coast, you can see Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. On the West Coast, you can see him in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, along with Grand Marshal Olivia Newton-John, Dean Cain, Montel Williams, the stars of The Young and the Restless, Robert Wagner, and Erik Estrada. It was filmed at the end of November and airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

Is There Such a Thing as a Good Fruitcake?

At this point, fruit cake jokes are as clichéd as jokes about airline food and mothers-in-law. Nobody likes fruit cake! The same fruit cake has been floating around for years! I used the one I got as a door stop! But there must be a good recipe for fruit cake, right?

I think it’s the hard pieces of fruit in the cake that dooms it, but you can have fruit in our cake without adding those. This recipe from Allrecipes uses dried fruit instead of the usual candied stuff. Alton Brown is always looking for the best recipes, and he makes a fruit cake in this video that has received a lot of great reviews. But if you want a “cake” that has “fruit” in it but don’t necessarily want to have a fruit cake, how about Rachel Allen’s Irish Apple Cake?

I bet it would be great with some Dream Whip on it.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 Years (December 20)

The singer’s birthday was back on August 3, but NBC is celebrating the milestone Tuesday with the special Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best is Yet to Come at 9 p.m. ET. There’s a theme to the night, as Michael Bublé Sings and Swings airs at 8 p.m.

Winter Solstice (December 21)

Wednesday is the day that the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest day and longest night of the year. It’s also the day everyone says, “Oh, I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping yet!”