Ask McArdle: Pumpkin mania

And a surefire hangover cure

Illustration by Peter Arkle

Illustration by Peter Arkle

I go crazy for pumpkin spice lattes. Why doesn’t Starbucks sell them all year round?

I’m reminded of the story of Donn Beach. In 1934, the entrepreneurial barkeep (he was born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Grant, but everyone called him “Don the Beachcomber”) wanted to distinguish his Hollywood drinking hole from its competitors. He conceived a beverage containing three types of rum, bitters, cinnamon syrup and a host of other ingredients, and he dubbed it “the Zombie.” What distinguished the drink was certainly not its subtle flavour, but the “two per customer” limit. Donn understood that consumers crave what they can’t have. Starbucks, similarly, has built a loyal following for its gourd-inspired milk beverages by only offering them in the fall. The fever reached a particular pitch this year, driven by an overall obsession with all things squash. (American restaurants have seen a 234% increase in pumpkin-related menu items between 2008 and 2012, according to Datassential Menu Trends.) As hot as uncut jack-o’-lanterns are right now, Starbucks sees the value in keeping pumpkin spice a seasonal item. “It really is designed to reflect and compliment the flavours of the fall season,” says Starbucks’ Carly Suppa. “For many customers, the arrival is similar to the arrival of the red cups in our stores at the holidays—symbolic signs of the start of a new season.”I await the “winter whisky macchiatto,” so I can hold the macchiato.

Most recent McRib sightings according to Sept. 17, Parker, Col.; Sept. 18: Flemington, N.J. and Powell, Wyo.: Sept. 30: Salem, Va.


Is there any official difference between a mansion and a really big house?

My childhood home contained eight bedrooms, two kitchens, a ballroom, an underground petting zoo, all within an economical 850 square feet. My father called it a mansion; my mother said it was the inevitable result of her husband’s passion for dollhouses and gin. Either way, McArdle Manor illustrates how “mansion” is a word defined in ways both loosey and goosey. Various self-appointed Internet experts suggest a mansion is anything over 6,000, 7,000 or 8,000 square feet—meaning it takes a very big home to manifestly be a mansion. Take, for example, the 12,000-square-foot New York dwelling purchased this summer by Goldman Sachs vice-chairman Mark Schwartz. Billed as the last freestanding mansion on Manhattan, the four-storey home has 12 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms. (The place was still a bit of a fixer-upper, hence its relatively low $14-million selling price.) The latest trend in the big city is “mansions” built into the lower floors of luxury condominium complexes. In these instances, developers insist it is the street frontage that matters—saying a home is a mansion if it has 20 feet or more (although many contend it must also be freestanding, otherwise it is a “maisonette”). Off the isle of Manhattan, it is more often the overall size that matters, although no authority appears to have committed these rules to paper. Indeed, neither the Canada Real Estate Association nor local real estate boards offer any hard guidelines. “It’s not a term we use to categorize homes for sale,” says Craig Munn of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. “My sense is that it’s a non-technical term that is used subjectively to describe a large, upscale house.” So a man’s home is his castle, but there’s nothing stopping it from being his mansion as well.

My colleagues are heavy drinkers, but I’m a lightweight. How can I keep pace?

Don’t even try. Start with a vodka and soda and then switch to soda when you start to feel woozy. Your chums won’t notice the change-up, and your liver will appreciate the kindness.

Need advice? Want to settle a debate? Go ahead, ask McArdle anything:

Illustration by Peter Arkle