Pity Poor Pippa (or how to make a Christmas turkey for Thanksgiving)
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Pity poor Pippa Middleton. Her first book has been slammed by critics on both sides of the Atlantic, and sales have been so sluggish since its release Oct. 30 that Amazon in Great Britain has already slashed the price in half.
Even worse, parodies of "Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Family and Friends" have been springing up all over. Go to "pippatips" on Twitter and you'll find such sage advice as, "If you fancy a bit of a laugh, watching, reading or listening to comedy can be an amusing way to bring the smiles."
Similar mundane observations fill Pippa's book, which is the major complaint. One critic remarked that "Celebrate" is "perfect for anyone who needs a recipe for making ice." Another said it was geared to third-graders, while an Irish Sun reviewer quipped, "It is clear that by writing the book, Pippa set out to prove that there is far more to her than her pert bottom. But the fact is, there isn't."
That Pippa was given a $600,000 advance by Viking based on nothing more than her royal connections has made the book's failure to thrive even more of an embarrassment. The hefty tome weighs in at 400 pages, with entertaining ideas, recipes, crafts, games and asides both personal and historic. Call it Martha Stewart meets Real Simple with a dash of Good Housekeeping. Pippa says she has a passion for writing, and we can agree to assume the words are her own. Certainly many of the ideas spring from growing up in a happy family with sister Kate (the Duchess of Cambridge) and brother James. Then there was her stint at a London-based events company, as well as her job cooking at a pub one summer. Presently Pippa works for her family's party supply company, one of the biggest in Britain. She edits The Party Times for the family's online Party Pieces business.
Such feeble experience has further inflamed her critics, but history is riddled with success stories fueled by nothing more. And in many respects, Pippa can pull rank. She's been to some top-shelf parties including the wedding of the century (so far). She knows her way around seasonal novelties. And she knows enough to get good help.
To that end, photographer David Loftus and illustrator Gill Heeley lent their talents to the proceedings, with lovely results. "Celebrate" is a handsome book that's at least a pleasure to page through. Wait a minute. It's even sort of a pleasure to read.
What did it to me, I think, was Pippa's introduction: "It's a bit startling to achieve global recognition (if that's the right word) before the age of 30, on account of your sister, your brother-in-law and your bottom," she writes.
Google Pippa and sure enough, "bum" comes up, with entire sites dedicated to her derriere. Flattering on one hand, but an uncertain claim to fame on the other. "I know many of you will have picked up this book out of nothing more than curiosity," she continues. "I can assure you that it feels even stranger to me than it probably does to you to have seen so much written about me when I have done so little to paint a picture of myself. This is my first chance to do that, and I've enjoyed every minute of it."
In her defense, so did I. Perhaps not in the way Pippa intended, but still ...
To be fair, I'm not much of a cook. What might seem obvious to some wasn't all that simplistic or insulting to me. Plus the recipes are in American, not metric, so that was thoughtful. Somehow I missed that "Celebrate" features British holidays and occasions. Given the massive publicity campaign in this country and the hoped-for sales that would follow, Pippa might have made the effort to do a little research and thrown us a few bones like tips for the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. (Confession: The turkey shown on Page C-1 was borrowed from the much-maligned Christmas chapter in which Pippa notes that "because of their size, turkeys are perfect for feeding larger gatherings.")
Of course, many of the recipes are for British food and contain instructions such as "1 pound ox or lamb kidneys, cleaned and cubed." Cleaned? What's on them anyway? Memo to Pippa: I don't think we eat this kind of stuff.
But in other chapters it is clear that Pippa has given her recipes much thought. She waxes philosophical on Halloween, and on Halloween cookies in particular: "These cookies use white chocolate and cranberries to represent ghosts and blood, dark chocolate and raisins for bats and witches." Symbolism mixed with sugar. Why is that stupid?
OK, Pippa does deserve some flak for this advice on Christmas trees: "Try to pick the tree that looks the freshest" and "Roughly calculate the height of the tree you want, allowing enough space for the tree topper, and for the tree base or pot. Avoid positioning your tree beside a radiator or fireplace, and make sure there are outlets nearby (or use an extension cord) for the Christmas lights."
On the plus side, Pippa excels at anything drink-related. Whether it's a recipe for her favorite vodka martini, a discourse on "whisky, the water of life" or any of the numerous cocktail tips, Pippa is dead-on. Add to that the fact that almost all the food in the book can be frozen for three months, and we're talking par-tay!
"Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends" is not the worst book ever written, and that turns out to be high praise indeed.
First Published November 20, 2012 12:00 am