Would You Eat This?

I have had a great time trying my hand at gardening for the past two summers. My husband helps me get everything started, and then, I tend the garden and harvest everything. This year, we have some beautiful sunflowers (three different types!), some zinnias, some delicious tomatoes, two varieties of sweet corn, and huitlacoche (also known as corn smut, a fungus on corn ears). While I’m proud of the flowers, tomatoes, and corn, I am just as excited about the huitlacoche (pronounced wheetlacochay).

For those who don’t know, in the US, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is considered a blight on a corn crop. It’s ugly…no doubt about it. And it certainly doesn’t look like something you should eat. The first time I saw it, in fact, I felt a little sick just from looking at it. But for centuries in Mexico, dating back to the Aztec culture, they have eaten it. Basically, it is a fungus that invades the corn plant, and as a result, the corn kernels grow into bulbous galls, which contain the spores of the fungus. It renders the corn useless, but if you know how to cook huitlacoche, it can be a delicious mistake in your garden!

Last year, I found a little on one ear, but this year, I found a lot on two ears, so I harvested it Monday, and yesterday, I cooked it. After finding it, I texted a friend from Mexico, who sent me several recipes for a few different ways to cook huitlacoche, and I opted to make tacos using a combination of some recipes…using onions, garlic, chilies, corn and cheese. You can learn more about huitlacoche here.

I know what you’re thinking. Is huitlacoche safe to eat? Trust me when I say I did a lot of reading before I cooked it. I talked extensively with a friend from Mexico, who assured me I would not die from eating the corn truffles, as they are sometimes called.

For research, a friend went to lunch with me at a Charlotte restaurant called Bakersfield. See its website here. It’s located on the corner of East Boulevard and Kenilworth…right across from Berry Brook Farms. I wanted to see what it was supposed to look like and find out how it is supposed to taste before trying to cook it. After having a Huitlacoche Taco at Bakersfield, I was completely sold! I could hardly wait to make my own at home!

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Bakersfield’s Huitlacoche Taco

Many of my friends couldn’t believe I would cook it…and they really couldn’t believe I would eat it! They saw the “before” pictures of the corn smut and decided they would not be eating it. But I cooked it with some chilies, corn, garlic onions, a little oil, and some cheese, and I ate it!Huitlacoche tastes a little like smokey corn…like a mushroom and corn mixed, and cooked with the other ingredients in the recipe, the flavor is amazing. So I was excited to cook it myself! While I’m sure there are some who would not like it, I found it delicious…and I was so proud of myself for not only harvesting it, but also cooking something really good with it. That being said, the rest of my family would not eat it, but they aren’t very adventurous eaters anyway. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them it was safe. Maybe they thought they shouldn’t eat it in case I needed to go to the hospital. But their worries proved unfounded.

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Huitlacoche Taco at my home! Success!

And frankly, they missed out on a culinary adventure. I’m sure my friends from Mexico would know my version of huitlacoche tacos wasn’t perfect, but they’re impressed I tried. And I’ve impressed myself this time! My friend, Cesar, who grew up in Mexico City, said, “You’re the only American woman I know who can grow it!” Of course, it was purely accidental that I became a huitlacoche farmer, but I’m so glad I did!

If you would like to try huitlacoche but don’t want to do any corn farming, you can get huitlacoche tacos at Bakersfield.

Or maybe next year I will harvest my own huitlacoche again, and you can come over and help me cook them!

 

 

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Eat Corn Fungus? You Bet!

I have had a great time trying my hand at gardening for the past two summers. My husband helps me get everything started, and then, I tend the garden and harvest everything. This year, we have some beautiful sunflowers (three different types!), some zinnias, some delicious tomatoes, two varieties of sweet corn, and huitlacoche (also known as corn smut, a fungus on corn ears). While I’m proud of the flowers, tomatoes, and corn, I am just as excited about the huitlacoche (pronounced wheetlacochay).

For those who don’t know, in the US, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is considered a blight on a corn crop. It’s ugly…no doubt about it. And it certainly doesn’t look like something you should eat. The first time I saw it, in fact, I felt a little sick just from looking at it. But for centuries in Mexico, dating back to the Aztec culture, they have eaten it. Basically, it is a fungus that invades the corn plant, and as a result, the corn kernels grow into bulbous galls, which contain the spores of the fungus. It renders the corn useless, but if you know how to cook huitlacoche, it can be a delicious mistake in your garden!

Last year, I found a little on one ear, but this year, I found a lot on two ears, so I harvested it Monday, and yesterday, I cooked it. After finding it, I texted a friend from Mexico, who sent me several recipes for a few different ways to cook huitlacoche, and I opted to make tacos using a combination of some recipes…using onions, garlic, chilies, corn and cheese. You can learn more about huitlacoche here.

I know what you’re thinking. Is huitlacoche safe to eat? Trust me when I say I did a lot of reading before I cooked it. I talked extensively with a friend from Mexico, who assured me I would not die from eating the corn truffles, as they are sometimes called.

For research, a friend went to lunch with me at a Charlotte restaurant called Bakersfield. See its website here. It’s located on the corner of East Boulevard and Kenilworth…right across from Berry Brook Farms. I wanted to see what it was supposed to look like and find out how it is supposed to taste before trying to cook it. After having a Huitlacoche Taco at Bakersfield, I was completely sold! I could hardly wait to make my own at home!

img_9869.jpg

Bakersfield’s Huitlacoche Taco

Many of my friends couldn’t believe I would cook it…and they really couldn’t believe I would eat it! They saw the “before” pictures of the corn smut and decided they would not be eating it. But I cooked it with some chilies, corn, garlic onions, a little oil, and some cheese, and I ate it!Huitlacoche tastes a little like smokey corn…like a mushroom and corn mixed, and cooked with the other ingredients in the recipe, the flavor is amazing. So I was excited to cook it myself! While I’m sure there are some who would not like it, I found it delicious…and I was so proud of myself for not only harvesting it, but also cooking something really good with it. That being said, the rest of my family would not eat it, but they aren’t very adventurous eaters anyway. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them it was safe. Maybe they thought they shouldn’t eat it in case I needed to go to the hospital. But their worries proved unfounded.

img_9996

Huitlacoche Taco at my home! Success!

And frankly, they missed out on a culinary adventure. I’m sure my friends from Mexico would know my version of huitlacoche tacos wasn’t perfect, but they’re impressed I tried. And I’ve impressed myself this time! My friend, Cesar, who grew up in Mexico City, said, “You’re the only American woman I know who can grow it!” Of course, it was purely accidental that I became a huitlacoche farmer, but I’m so glad I did!

If you would like to try huitlacoche but don’t want to do any corn farming, you can get huitlacoche tacos at Bakersfield.

Or maybe next year I will harvest my own huitlacoche again, and you can come over and help me cook them!

 

 

And They Said It Wouldn’t Last

On August 19, my husband and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. We were married in 2000, when we were both rapidly approaching our mid-thirties. We had known each other for three years, having met through a mutual friend with whom I worked.

I was 33, and he was 34, and when we got married, I was living in Mobile, Alabama, and he was living in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had met in Mobile in 1997, but he had moved to Charlotte soon thereafter, so we had a long-distance relationship, and I had no plans of moving unless I was married. I’m sure I could have found a job in Charlotte, but at 33, I wasn’t willing to make a partial commitment to a man; I needed a full-on commitment if I were going to move.

So we were married on August 19 in the historic First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. When we returned from our two-week Hawaiian honeymoon, we went to Mobile and loaded a truck with all my belongings and moved them to Charlotte. I had lived in different places, so moving was not a challenge for me. In fact, the longest I had ever lived anywhere at that point in my life was nine years…moving wasn’t a problem. Of course, my family was in Alabama, but I could visit whenever I wanted, and we talked every day.

Not gonna lie. The first year was challenging. Remember, we were 33 and 34. We had both been living alone for years, and I loved living alone….eating cereal for dinner in front of the TV; staying up as late as I wanted; being in charge of the remote control; not answering to anyone…you get the picture. We were two (and still are) two very different people. He likes to be home. I like to be on the go. In fact, home, for me, is just a place to change clothes. And I’m always planning my next trip. He’s quiet. I’m not. Seriously, he is very quiet and reserved. But we were married. Suddenly, I had to be more grown up. I had to cook and eat real meals at the table instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. My husband liked to go to bed earlier than I did, and he always held the remote control. Life was different, and when I was down, he didn’t understand. What did I not like about leaving a one-bedroom apartment? Well…that little one bedroom apartment was my space, and after getting married, it seemed I rarely had my space. I’m sure there were people who could sense the tension and thought, “They’ll never make it.”

But one year in, I was accustomed to married life. In fact, one year in, and I was flat out enjoying it. We got a dog…an Airedale Terrier I wanted to name Fannie after a college friend, but the husband wouldn’t go for “Fannie.” We opted for Annie instead. She has been gone for several years now, but I still wish we had named her Fannie.  And then, 2.5 years after we married, we were expecting a baby. We found out in May 2003 it was a girl, and we were thrilled. She was born in October of 2003, and no one ever loved a baby more than we love that girl. But again, there was added stress. We were sleep deprived. We were exhausted (mostly me). But after the first few months, we started to get more sleep. We started to have more fun, and the stress of having a baby in the house subsided. We were a happy little family of three.

It hasn’t been all fun and games. In 2005, my husband’s beloved grandmother passed away, and all of us were heartbroken. She was kind and caring, and she was a force of nature. At the same time, my mother was driving from Mobile to Birmingham (4-5 hours) all the time, trying to get my grandmother settled in to assisted living, and my daddy was having undiagnosed health issues. In February 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died that same year…eight months after his official diagnosis. My heart was broken. While I had lost grandparents, I had never experienced a loss as terrible as that one. It was the hardest time of my life, at that point. I was truly devastated. My heart ached in a way I didn’t know it could.

After that, my husband had not one, but two brain surgeries, and we survived that. I say “we,” because it was hard on both of us. Physically and mentally, it was difficult for him. It was emotionally and mentally hard on me. He came back from surgery a different person, but we got through that too. You can read about it here. And then, I lost my mother in December 2017. It took the wind out of my sails. I slept for a month afterward. I had learned some coping skills after the losing my daddy, but it didn’t matter. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss of my mother. I can still get upset at any moment, and it has been 20 months since she passed.

But my husband helped. He understood. He knew that when I stayed in bed in January of 2018, I needed to be there. He looked out for me. He supported me. And then, one of my dearest friends died in June 2018 after battling cancer for 30 years. My husband supported me through that too.

We’ve had our share of heartaches, but we are a team, and we deal with them together. We have had our share of disagreements, but we’ve moved past them. Sometimes he thinks I’m absolutely insane, and vice versa. I’m not going to lie and say it has been easy. It hasn’t always been easy. I don’t always understand him, and he doesn’t always understand me, but we try.

But married life hasn’t been all about loss. It hasn’t been all been difficult. We love raising our daughter together. We love sitting out on the patio together in the evening…sipping Prosecco and listening to jazz music. We have enjoyed going to lots of concerts together. At night, before we go to sleep, we watch an episode of Chrisley Knows Best, The Young and The Restless, or CSI: Miami. He helps me plant the garden every year, and I tend it. We both love to watch college and NFL football, so fall is a busy time for us. And we try to go to all our daughter’s field hockey and lacrosse games. He brings me coffee in bed every morning, because he learned that I’m a lot happier if I wake up with caffeine. I go to bed earlier, because he likes to get to bed earlier than I do. We laugh a lot…at each other and with each other. We have fun together. We are thankful we wake up every day. We appreciate the life we have together.

Our daughter is about to start her sophomore year of high school, and in three short years, she will be heading off to college somewhere. We will enter a new phase of life, God willing. And we will have to adapt to more changes. Right now, we aren’t always on the same page for our plans for the empty nest years. But I’m sure we will find ways to compromise. We will find ways to make sure we both get to “live the dream.” He wants the Gulf Coast, and I want to travel to different cities. We will find a way to make it all happen, and we will have fun along the way….God willing.

Happy 19th Anniversary, Cary! And they said it wouldn’t last…

Gardening…again

Last year, I tried my hand at a very small garden and had lots of success, so this year, I’ve decided to do it again. Before, I had tomatoes, sweet corn, and sunflowers, so I’m going to see if lightning will strike twice. As I said last year, I’m no gardener. I have no idea what I’m doing. But dang it…it’s fun!

We are planting corn this year on the side of the house, and it will be visible (a little) from the street once it gets tall. I’m not sure how much grain growing is allowed in the neighborhood, but I guess we will find out! I will let everyone know if we receive some sort of written notice. My husband is lucky, because I really wanted to plant it out front. I think corn stalks are beautiful, but he put his foot down on that. I learned last year that I had planted my corn plants too far apart, so I had to pollinate them by hand. We still had corn to eat, but it was a chore making sure they were all pollinated. Therefore, this year, I’m planting them in clusters, so they can pollinate each other. Nature’s way is best, so planting them closer together is the way to go. I learned from the past. I was actually surprised the corn grew last year, and I was doubly surprised when it actually produced ears of corn!

The tomato plants are going into the ground near where they were last year, because our knockout roses are in the same area. I believe our tomatoes survived last year, simply because of the knockout roses. The roses attracted braconid wasps, which in turn, killed the tomato grubs that tried to invade the garden. I had no idea about that when we planted the tomatoes, but I noticed a tomato grub with little eggs all over his back and looked it up. They were the eggs of the wasp, and they killed the tomato grubs. Thank you, braconids! Therefore, we are going to put our tomatoes near some roses again.

If you’ve never had a garden of any type, you might find it therapeutic. Last summer, when I woke up every day, I would walk outside and water our garden. And sometimes, I would water them in the evening too. We had tomatoes galore! But it was also a way for me to relax. Sure, I can sit by the pool during the summer and relax. And I can spend time with friends and family, but there was something about the quiet solitude of tending the plants that was good for my psyche. My mother had died the December before, and I truly believe gardening helped me with that. My parents both loved tomatoes and sunflowers. I knew they would have been pleased with what I was doing. Nobody loved a tomato sandwich more than my daddy, and I was able to enjoy them all summer long last year. Store-bought tomatoes just don’t cut it, so I grew my own! We hope to have the same this year…good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!

So today, instead of doing all the things I should be doing, I will be doing what I want to do. I will have my hands in the dirt. OK, mostly it will be a trowel in the dirt. But I will have it in the dirt, transferring my seedling plants from the little clear cups into the ground. I discovered last year that birds and moles ate most of the seeds I planted, so I had more luck when I transplanted seedlings for corn and sunflowers. Tomato plants will go into the ground near the roses, and we will see if lightning strikes twice.

I’ve had terrible laryngitis for the better part of the week, so having something quiet to do will be perfect for me today. I haven’t felt much like doing anything, but today, it is on!

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Easter Gifts

I went to Target last night in search of items to put in my teenage daughter’s Easter basket. For the last few years, a friend of hers…we’ll call her Lu…has slept over at our house the night before Easter. It has become a tradition, and I love it! I get to put together two Easter baskets! This year, though, I get to put together three, because her friend from Ohio is flying in to spend the weekend with us too!

Last week, I did some shopping for them at a local store called Paper Skyscraper and got some really cute items there…Greenwich Trading Company soaps, bunny slippers, and more. I’ve also ordered some favorite childhood collectibles on eBay, but last night, I was on a candy mission.

Easter candy is the best. I know you’re thinking Valentine or Christmas candy might be better, but I’m telling you, Easter candy wins, hands down.

Every year, when they put the Easter candy out…right after Valentine’s Day…I purchase some Whoppers Mini Robin Eggs. I don’t eat Whoppers any other time of year, but at Easter, I want the Mini Robin Eggs. They make me think of my friend, Angela. We have been friends for 33 years, so we’ve made lots of crazy memories. In the early 2000s, when we were both married without children, I visited her around Easter one year, and we sat on the sofa in her den, laughing and eating Whoppers Mini Robin Eggs. We might have eaten them till we both felt sick. But the point is…I have to buy them every year, because they make me think of Angela and good times!

I have other favorites too, so whether she likes them or not, my daughter gets these candies every year:

  • Peeps. I think Peeps are the best-selling Easter candies. Some people absolutely love them. Me? Not so much. But the Easter Bunny put them in my basket every year anyway. As an adult, I’ve discovered they aren’t that bad, but still not my favorites to eat. They are, however, necessities for Easter baskets. It just wouldn’t be an Easter basket without Peeps. I feel pretty sure my daughter throws them away every year, but this year, she and her friends will be getting a Peeps candy/sock gift combo. So cute!s-l1600-2
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs. When I was a little girl, Daddy would give us our “allowance” on Saturday mornings and take us to the “candy store,” which was really a little, locally-owned convenience store called Murphy’s. Mr. and Mrs. Murphy were always there, and they were always kind to us. We would go in with our money and pick the candies we wanted. My favorite was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I would pick up those first, before getting Now & Laters, Super Bubble Bubble Gum, a Three Musketeers Bar, Spree, a Blow Pop, and sometimes a Marathon Bar. But Reese’s were my favorite. Somehow, the Reese’s Peanut Butter eggs taste more like the peanut butter cups tasted when I was a child. Whether my daughter likes it or not, she’s getting those.9101dS1S5jL._SX522_
  • Pez. Come on…Easter baskets wouldn’t be complete without an Easter-themed Pez dispenser. Little chick? Little Lamb? Little Easter Bunny? Sold! Pez candies are OK tasting, but the real novelty is in the dispenser. easter-pez-127510-im1
  • Fun Dip. My daughter loved Fun Dip when she was little, and so did I. They make a “spring” edition….pastel colors. She’ll be getting some in her basket, and so will her friends!springtime-fun-dip-multi-pack-16ct-sold-out-2
  • Chocolate Bunny. I don’t care if it’s good chocolate or cheap chocolate. Because I always received a chocolate bunny in my Easter basket, my daughter and her friends get chocolate bunnies too. One year, my daughter left it on the dining room table…right where the sun shines through the window. I walked in later to find an unidentifiable chocolate creature that looked a little zombie-ish, because it had melted.Palmer-Hollow-Milk-Chocolate-Bunny
  • Chocolate Cross. It’s Easter, people. solid-chocolate-cross-2-5oz-milk-or-white-chocolate-22

And then, there are gifts of the non-candy variety:

  • Devotional Book or Bible. There are devotional books that contain daily or weekly devotionals. There are books that explain The Bible in plain speak. There are books of Bible stories for children…and frankly, I see no shame in reading those myself! When we were little, Mother would read to us nightly from a children’s book of Bible stories. Amazon offers lots of options for devotional books and Bibles. I found one for teenage girls here.51LHcMF7M7L._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_

Silver cross necklace. Nordstrom has a nice variety of cross necklaces…a meaningful gift to add to the Easter basket. You can see their selection here.

There are other little things I put into the baskets on Easter, so I’m going to share some of those ideas too (some will appear in baskets this year):

  • Lip gloss
  • Hand lotion
  • Garden gnome (every…single…year)
  • Flower seeds or Grow Kit
  • Starbucks gift card
  • Other gift cards (Chick-Fil-A, Target, Smoothie King, etc.)
  • Good-smelling soaps. I purchased some made by Greenwich Trading Company.
  • Lacrosse and field hockey balls.
  • Decorative cross. Again, it’s Easter, and a decorative cross makes a lovely gift any time of year…to remember He is risen.

Happy Easter, friends! Christ died so we could have everlasting life, and on the third day, He arose. Let’s celebrate His resurrection.

 

My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018, Part 3: Home

My Favorite Holiday Gifts for HOME 2018! I’m not bold enough to believe I know everything about holiday gifts, but I know some things I’m planning to give this year and some things that have been well-received over the year. We have covered Books and Women’s Accessories. I will be posting about different categories over the next few weeks: Men/Boys gifts, Travel, Stocking Stuffers, and Kids/Teens, but today is all about HOME gifts. Take a look at the wide assortment listed below…more than 20 possibilities…with prices from as low as $8.49.

Claus Porto Soaps. I can’t get enough of these. They make great gifts for anyone…and great stocking stuffers too! The presentation of these soaps is absolutely beautiful, and the scents are incredible! My personal favorite is the box of Gift Soaps, containing 15 small soaps from four of their lines. They are shea butter infused, so they smell beautiful and add moisture to skin! Larger gift boxes contain larger soaps, and wrappings are gorgeous. Prices start at $10 for single soaps. See them at Clausporto.com here.

 

Gifts for folks who entertain a lot. We all have friends who are fantastic hosts/hostesses. My friend who is always hosting parties at her home (she knows who she is) would love some Mario Luca Giusti Rainbow Milly Glasses I’ve seen at Neiman Marcus. They would be a great Christmas gift for her. (These are not meant as hostess gifts for having me over, but HOLIDAY gifts.) These glasses hold 10 ounces, and they’re made of acrylic! The color will brighten any gathering. Priced at $144 for a set of four, you can get them at Neiman Marcus here. Have a family recipe to share? Share it with your friend or family member via a Custom Recipe Paddle Board from Swoozie’s. Priced at $79.95, you can customize the board with a handwritten recipe…maybe Grandma’s Sour Cream Pound Cake? Maybe Mom’s Chicken and Dumplings? For more info, click here.

 

 

Bath and Body Works Candles. Who doesn’t love for their home to smell good? Right now, Bath and Body Works has their 3-wick holiday candles priced at $12.95! A great gift! My favorite is the Champagne Toast Scent.

Alexandra Von Furstenberg accents. I love Alexandra Von Furstenberg acrylic accent pieces. From small boxes to votives to frames, I love the color and the texture. I find lots of friends and family love to add some color in their homes here and there, and Furstenberg’s smaller pieces make lovely gifts. Frames start at $125 for a 6.25″ x 6.25″ frame, and go up from there, depending on the size. A 7″ x 7″ valet tray starts at $155, while votives start at $165, and bud vases start at $220.

 

Dodow. Lots of folks regularly post on Facebook about their insomnia. I understand. It’s terrible. After talking with a few people about it, this contraption called Dodow sounds like it could be a big help! According to its website, this light metronome actually “retrains your brain to fall asleep — while it mesmerizes you to sleep!” If you have someone on your Christmas list who has trouble falling asleep, they will love you for getting them this! Prices start at $59, and it can be purchased from Amazon here.

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Tiffany and Co. Home Gifts. Contrary to popular belief, Tiffany and Co. offers a lovely assortment of home gifts that won’t break the budget, but they still come in a lovely Tiffany blue box and bow. The Elsa Peretti Collection offers heart decorative boxes, starting at $75 for clear glass, and $95 for red leather. Another favorite at a good price is the Elsa Peretti Wave Jewelry Box in red or green leather, priced at $125. Shop Elsa Peretti at Tiffany and Co. here.

 

Canvaschamp.com. I’m a fan of Canvaschamp.com, because I think a photo canvas makes a great gift for most anyone. My mother always just wanted pics of the family for Christmas every year. Canvaschamp.com will also turn any photo you have into a Warhol-style canvas. Just upload the photo, and they will email you a draft. Prices start at about $20. See it here.img_8275

Skylight Frame. I suggested this as a Mother’s Day gift, as well. According to their website, the Skylight Frame is a digital touch screen 10″ photo frame that displays your digital photos and can be updated remotely via email. It promises “clarity, color, and brilliance.” Each frame has its own email address, so you can update the photos anytime from anywhere. This would be a great gift for just about anyone! Priced at $159, I think it is a great gift (hint, hint). Get more information and purchase the Skylight Frame here. 

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Long Distance Friendship Lamp. These are just awesomeness. If my child were away at college, I would definitely get these partner lamps. Purchase one for yourself and one for your best friend or loved one who lives far away. When you touch the lamp to adjust the hue in your home, it adjusts your friend’s lamp as well, letting them know you’re thinking of them! I love it, because I think it’s important for us to let folks know when we think of them. Priced from $85 to $170 at Uncommongoods.com here.

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Neiman Marcus Shopping Ladies Mug. I know some folks hate mugs as gifts, but I love them, especially these, featuring shopping ladies. I get Neiman Marcus holiday mugs every year, so I have an odd collection, but these are some of the best ever! Priced at just $15 each, pair with a favorite coffee, and they make great small gifts for friends and neighbors. Order here.

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Instant Pot. These are not your mother’s pressure cookers! I have friends who swear by them, while I’m still learning how to use mine. That roast I cook in the Crockpot for 8 hours? It cooks in an hour in the Instant Pot, and it’s as tender as if it had simmered for hours. It’s the wave of the future! Look online for deals, especially at Amazon.com. You can purchase here.

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Neiman Marcus Holiday Platter. You can’t have too many platters if you entertain. The Annual Neiman Marcus Holiday Platters feature different designs and colors every year, and they are heavy and well-made. I’m not a “collector” per se, but I get one every year for myself. They make great gifts for friends. Add a dozen holiday cookies or brownies…a lovely, thoughtful gift! Priced at $35, it won’t break the bank. Order from Neiman Marcus online, and pay a little extra for the gift wrapping. You’ll be glad you did. Order here.

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Weighted Blanket. A-maz-ing. Weighted blankets have been proven to help users sleep. The weight of the blanket has a calming effect. Have a friend or family member who has difficulty falling asleep? This could change their lives. There are lots of different ones out there, but the only one I’ve ever used is the Calming Comfort Weighted blanket, which you can purchase here. Prices start at $129. I’m getting one for my husband for Christmas. Other brands can be purchased through Amazon.com.

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T-Fal Preseasoned Cast Iron Skillet. Most folks raised in the south know the value of a perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. You can’t make true southern fried chicken or cornbread without a good cast iron skillet. Many of us have fought to get our mother’s or our grandmother’s cast iron skillet. It makes a great gift for anyone who likes to cook, but make sure you give them directions on how to care for it…and maybe a few recipes too. Prices start at $15 at Amazon. Purchase here.

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Airportag.comRather than pick one item from this awesome website, I am listing the whole website. Great for the aviation enthusiasts in your life, there are so many customizable products. Personalized boarding pass-style pillows, mugs, shirts, comforters, totes, luggage tags, and many more…they have it all for the folks who love planes and trains. Look up items by item type, airline, airport…whatever you choose…even defunct carriers! Prices start under $5 for stickers and go up from there. Boarding Pass and Airport Throw Pillow Set shown, $95. Shop Airportag.com here.

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Bluebird of Happiness. When my mother died last December, I wondered about some pretty little glass bluebirds on a table in her house. After asking some questions, I found the person who had given them to her…an old family friend. I sent the birds to the friend, but because I liked that they symbolized happiness, I ordered some for myself. I’ve also found they make lovely gifts. Sure, we can’t actually give someone happiness, but we can offer them the Bluebird of Happiness. Prices start at $8.49. Purchase directly from the studio where they are made here. Take a look around at other items they offer…lots of great gifts: Dragon’s Eggs, Wise Owls, Blue Bubbles of Happiness, and more.

Glass Cardinal Paperweight. Speaking of birds, I’ll offer this suggestion too. My family always said cardinals that flew into our yards or near our windows were visits from family members who had passed. I have a red cardinal on my nightstand representing my mother. I am get one of these paperweights to represent my daddy, as well. And this Christmas, friends and family who have lost loved ones will likely receive them as small gifts from me. They’re pretty, and for me, they’re comforting. Plus, they’re inexpensive. Priced at $11.47 and with free shipping, it’s a way to remember a lost loved one at the holidays. Get them at Amazon here.

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Unique Planters. Lots of folks love gardening…even me! My friend, Michelle, in Fairhope, Alabama, owns Corner Copia Gardens Nursery Center and Gifts, where she sells plants and has a lovely gift shop too! Many times, when I see pictures she posts from her gift shop, I wish I could run in and buy a few things. Alas, I’ll have to wait till I can get there, but if you live in the greater metropolitan Mobile (Alabama) area, it’s worth a drive. She often has lovely “head planters” that look great with succulents planted in them, and I love when she posts photos of Air Plant Jellies she sells. See her facebook page here. The phone number is there, or send her a message about any gift ideas.

 

Whew! There you have it! Lots of HOME gifts in lots of different price ranges and for lots of different people…gardeners, hostesses, sports fans, cooks, moms, teens, dads…something for everyone!

***NEXT TIME: Gifts for Men/Boys.***

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Rookie Gardener

I’ve said before that I am no gardener. A few years ago, I had some pretty good luck with gardening in my backyard, but then I developed a fear of snakes and became afraid. Every time I thought about sticking my hands into or near the dirt, I was terrified I would pick up a copperhead.

In Mecklenburg County, the only venomous snake species we have is the copperhead, but it seems there are lots of them. Growing up in Alabama, we had six species of venomous snakes, including three different types of rattlesnakes, which are highly dangerous to humans. I’ve seen more than my fair share of rattlesnakes and copperheads. In fact, I came dangerously close to stepping on a big diamondback rattlesnake when I was 18. To learn more about the venomous snakes of Alabama, including the copperhead, click here. Be forewarned: just like Jaws made us all afraid to go back into the water, seeing the pictures of these snakes may make you afraid to go back outside altogether.

Back to gardening. For years, I did nothing, till this year, and I’m not doing a lot, but I am doing a little. I have more than one inspiration. I want to have some sunflowers in memory of my parents this summer, and posts by my friend, Michelle, owner of Corner Copia Gardens and Gifts in Fairhope, Alabama, would make anyone want to try their hand at gardening. To see her Facebook page for inspiration, click here.

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Photo from Corner Copia Gardens in Fairhope, Alabama

While I want sunflowers in my backyard, I’m not planting any other types of flowers. We have some beautiful knockout roses that continue to bloom, so I don’t feel like I need to add much to those. I’m adding a few vegetables.

One thing I’ve always loved is a good homegrown vine-ripened tomato. When my friend, Wendy, lived here in Charlotte, she had a neighbor who grew some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life. And I’ve had a lot of tomatoes. Growing up, I didn’t care for tomatoes. I think a lot of kids are turned off by the slightly acidic taste of tomatoes. When I was in college, I went to the lake with a friend, and her mother had some homegrown tomatoes for us. Not wanting to be rude, I ate the slices she gave me, and I never looked back.

If you are a tomato person, you know store-bought tomatoes are deceiving. Every year, I make the mistake of picking up some beautiful tomatoes in the grocery store with hopes they are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Then, I get home and slice into them, only to find they are hard and ugly on the inside. A good, homegrown tomato is just as red on the inside as it is on the outside.

Throughout my life, I had seen my daddy eat tomato sandwiches. He loved a good tomato sandwich, and apparently, my mother knew the perfect way to make them. It’s not difficult, but if you don’t make them just right, you can mess them up. My daddy liked his tomatoes peeled. Weird, I know, but that’s what he liked. Sometimes, I peel mine too. But the main thing is to use white bread…not whole wheat, not whole grain, not pumpernickel or rye…white bread. On the white bread slices, slather your favorite mayonnaise. Daddy preferred Hellman’s, but I prefer Duke’s. Yes, you can use the reduced fat versions, but because good tomatoes are hard to find, I don’t want to mess them up with the reduced fat stuff. Add tomato slices to the mayo-slathered bread and top it with a little salt and pepper to taste. I can almost taste it now. ***It’s difficult to find Duke’s Mayonnaise in some parts of the country. If you’ve never had it, you should try it. You can order it from Amazon here.***

Obviously, I’m trying to grow my own tomatoes this summer. My husband and I picked up a few small plants, and he put them in the ground. We purchased Bonnie Plants brand Big Boy tomato plants and Better Boy tomato plants at a local store. To see the Bonnie Plants website for tomato information, click here. It’s not too late to do your own. I’ve been tending ours. That means I’ve been calling my brother to get tips on growing good tomatoes. I’ve also been checking online for information. So far, I haven’t killed them yet, and we even have a few small tomatoes showing up on our plants. I looked online to see how long it takes tomatoes to ripen on the vine, and on average, for the types we are growing, it takes about 75 days after germination. That seems like a long time. I’m counting down the days and hoping I don’t kill them before then.

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I’ve also planted a few other vegetables. We’ll see how that works out before I go into any detail.

My friend, Leah, in memory of my parents, gave me a Sunflower Grow Kit earlier this year, and I was so excited to get that started, and so far, they’re growing! The kit included potting soil, seeds, plant food, and a bag in which to grow them. You can see various grow kits here. I also planted some Burpee brand sunflower seeds, which you can find at your local home stores. I purchased mine at Home Depot, but they have them in Lowe’s too. If you live in or near Wetumpka, Alabama, you can visit the Lowe’s there and see my handsome nephew, Brennen.

My sunflowers have been a little slow-growing, but in the past few days they seem to be getting some traction. I have hope. Sunflowers aren’t difficult to grow, and I had huge success with them 16 years ago, growing some of the biggest, most beautiful sunflowers I’ve ever seen. I planted mine a little later than before, but with sunflowers, I think that’s OK.

For planting this year, since I still haven’t overcome my fear of snakes, I wore gardening gloves and used a gardening trowel. I don’t know how much protection that offers from snakes, but it made me feel better. I found myself scanning all around me while I dug, though. I won’t even walk out onto the patio without checking out the steps before opening the back door.

As the summer progresses, I’ll keep you posted on my gardening. Hoping for tall sunflowers with big heads and some juicy tomatoes soon.

Go play in the dirt!

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