The Holidays Have Begun

The holidays have officially begun!

Thanksgiving marks the official beginning of the holiday season, and if our Thanksgiving is any indication of how our holidays will be…we are in for a delightful holiday season! This year, we had planned to have a quiet Thanksgiving at home…just the three of us, but then the family of one of our daughter’s friends invited us to join them!

My daughter and I returned from vacation Wednesday night. After a four hour flight home, I ran a few errands and unpacked one of my two bags before watching a recorded episode of The Young and The Restless (Chance Chancellor is alive!) and crawling into bed. It’s the flight that makes me tired. I just can’t sleep on the plane, so all that time just sitting makes me weary.

But I awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Thanksgiving morning, because I got plenty of sleep. We weren’t due at the friends’ house till five in the afternoon, so I had plenty of recovery time…time to catch up with some friends and family by phone (after the vacation) and time to put together the only thing we were contributing to the meal…a buttermilk pie for dessert. (I will post the recipe at the end, if you’re interested.)

I have written before about Thanksgiving and how it’s not my favorite holiday. I have always thought it was overrated. I have several friends who say Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday (Maureen, I’m looking at you), but I’ve never felt the same way. However, after yesterday, I had a change of heart. I realized we just weren’t doing it right! Yep…I no longer think Thanksgiving is overrated, because we had a great time with our new friends! We talked, we laughed, we dined…and I even enjoyed the turkey! Just like I’ve always thought Thanksgiving is overrated, I’ve felt the same about turkey, but I must have been eating the wrong turkey, because last night, our hostess prepared a delicious turkey…and our daughter’s very favorite macaroni and cheese.

In fact, the macaroni and cheese was one of the topics of conversation. Our daughter has never eaten macaroni and cheese…no matter how hard I tried to get her to eat it over the years, she would always put her foot down and refuse. But one night, she came home from this friend’s house and declared that she loved his mom’s macaroni and cheese! A breakthrough! After that, I offered to make macaroni and cheese for dinner, and she informed me that the only mac and cheese she likes is the friend’s mom’s mac and cheese. After having it last night, I understand…the mac and cheese was divine! In fact, everything was great…especially the company!

So I no longer think Thanksgiving is overrated. At the age of 54, I have discovered that Thanksgiving is fun! I think it’s a time to bring people together. I think it’s a time we should all count our blessings…no matter how big or how small. Yes, I still believe we should all be thankful all year. I think we should spend time with people we love and make new friends all year. I think we should enjoy life all year. But Thanksgiving is a reminder…it’s a gentle reminder that life is what we make it…so make it good.

Now, let’s get these holidays underway! Let’s drag the Christmas decorations down from the attic and sing Christmas carols while we decorate! And let’s make lots of new friends!

***Buttermilk Pie Recipe***

Ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tblspns plain flour
  • 1 stick melted butter, slightly cooled
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tspsns real vanilla extract
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Topping ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup seedless blackberry preserves
  • 1 tblspn Chamborde liqueur
  • OR you can use any fruit reduction

Directions: Beat eggs slightly. Mix sugar and flour well and add to eggs. Mix until creamy. Add melted butter, mixing well. Add buttermilk and flavoring. Pour into pie shell and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour until custard is set.

Topping Directions: Put preserves in saucepan and warm on medium heat, stirring constantly with wire whip until smooth. Remove from heat and add Chamborde. Let cool to lukewarm and serve over warm pie.

Holiday Gifting 2021 (Part 6): Gifts for Men

Gifts for men.

Every year, I find it difficult to decide on gifts for my husband. Generally speaking, we don’t give each other big gifts, because we get what we want throughout the year. Truly, he knows I just need a few good vacations throughout the year, and I’m happy. You know what they say, “Happy wife, happy life.” Just send me on vacation, and I’m happy…so he’s happy.

But we do like to exchange gifts at Christmas. And I aim to please, but like I said, it’s not easy.

Here are a few things I’m thinking about this year…

  • Freezable Glasses. I’ve loved Rabbit Freezable Glasses for years. I have some that I’ve used for whiskey, and I just found out Rabbit makes freezable glasses for beer! Now, that’s a game changer! And unlike the standard frosty mug, these freezable glasses come with silicone grips, so your hands don’t get cold. They’re great for indoor or outdoor use, and they come in sets of two for $35 from Amazon here. Have a beer drinker in your life? He might like finding these under the tree this year! See them at Amazon here. And don’t forget Rabbit makes whiskey glasses you can find on Amazon too…two for $30 here. Add their favorite whiskey to the package if you get them the whiskey glasses, and add a 12-pack of beer, if you get the beer glasses! Voila! The perfect gift!
  • Kanga Kase Mate. Have a beer drinker on your shopping list? The Kanga Kase Mate, an iceless, insulated cooler for beer, could be the perfect gift! Even a hard seltzer drinker would like one! The Kase Mate starts at $39.95 for the 12-pack size and goes to $49.95 for the 24-pack size. You can even get one to hold a 30-pack! They come in different colors, so you can pick the color that will be right for the man on your list. But order soon, because these are low in stock and could disappear soon! I know a couple of guys on my list who would love this! See the Kanga website here. And they have some exclusive designs available here.
  • Patio Heat. My husband loves having cocktails out on the patio in the evenings. During the cold winter months, we still want to enjoy the patio, but we need to stay warm. There are ways to fix that. I love wood-burning fire pits, but the husband? He hates the smoke. He always says, “I hate going back inside smelling like I’ve smoked a pack [of Marlboro Reds].” But I found Solo Stove, a “smokeless” wood-burning fire pit. At first, he was not a believer, but after a couple of demonstrations by me (yes, me!)…showing how easy it was to get the fire going and how little smoke it produced…he was sold! He realized he didn’t go inside smelling like he’d smoked a pack! In fact, he started enjoying the Solo Stove more than he ever thought he would. See the website here. Patio heaters are also an option. If you’d rather have heaters operated on propane gas, you can purchase the heaters at Lowe’s or Home Depot. We have two that we use when we are going to be outside for less than an hour…we don’t want to leave a fire burning in the Solo Stove unattended. The heaters are great; they’re not quite as warm as the Solo Stove, but they do keep the chill off! See them at the Lowe’s website here.
  • MasterClass Pass. If the man on your list loves to learn, a MasterClass Pass could be the perfect gift. In reality, it could be a great gift or anyone who is difficult to buy for. We all know people who have everything they need and can get anything they want when they want it. It’s hard to select gifts for those people. With the MasterClass Pass, they receive access to “classes” about lots of different things. They have a huge variety of offerings. I just took a peek at the site, and I saw classes by Anna Wintour on Creativity and Leadership; Metallica teachers Being a Band; The Power of Empathy by Pharrell Williams and others; cooking classes, dog training, and more! Starting at $15/month and billed annually, MasterClass could be a great gift! See the website here.
  • CrowdCow. I was a little confused when I first heard about CrowdCow, but after reading up on it, I think it sounds great! My brother loves to cook, and he loves a good cut of meat. CrowdCow is a company that finds best-in-class meat producers and connects the consumer to them. Their meats are available through a membership or through one-time purchases. You could send a gift box or gift a membership to the man in your life. They get great reviews. To see more about CrowdCow, click here.
  • Coat. Lots of men won’t just go out and get themselves a new winter coat…they just wear the same one for years and years. There are lots of good coats out there, but here are some I like, at different price points. Duluth Trading has good quality, rugged-looking men’s coats starting at about $150. I got my husband one of their Fire Hose Coats a few years ago, and it has held up beautifully. He doesn’t worry about getting it dirty, and it keeps him warm, which is what it’s supposed to do. See Duluth Trading coats here. For quality plus style in warm jackets, it seems Barbour brand is the ticket. They’re not heavy-duty cold weather coats, but they’re great around town. Starting at about $200, their quilted jackets offer warmth and classic style. See their offerings here. At a higher price point, Canada Goose seems to be all the rage this year. Their parkas for extreme cold weather start at about $750, and while that’s a high price point, they are quality through and through. There’s a reason people are willing to shell out the big bucks for these coats…they look good and get the job done in extreme temps…without a doubt. See Canada Goose here. And if you don’t mind the price point, Canada Goose has just come out with a line of footwear.
  • Everything Duluth Trading. I know I mentioned their coats above, but frankly, I love their website. They have so many great gifts for men; you can surely find something for any man on your list: coats, loungewear, gloves, hats, accessories, sleepwear, gadgets, travel gear, tool bags…and the website it just fun. And the Angry Beaver mascot cracks me up too. Shop Duluth Trading here.
  • Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker. If the man on your list likes to entertain or just enjoys a good margarita or other frozen concoction, the Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker, prices at about $230 on Amazon, gets great ratings. With a 36-ounce blending jar, it keeps the margaritas coming and blends them perfectly, according to everything I’ve read. This might be on my shopping list this year. See it at Amazon here.
  • Nic Tailor Underwear. Produced right here in North Carolina, Nic Tailor is, according to their website, the “first custom fit underwear for men.” I have friends whose husbands love the undershirts, boxer briefs, and trunks…saying the fabric is top notch, and their husbands/boyfriends love the fit. According to reviews on the website, the fabric is lightweight and “incredibly comfortable.” Prices start at about $34, and while underwear might seem like a boring gift, the man on your list will likely thank you for introducing him to Nic Tailor. See the website here.
  • Portable Charger. I know I’m always pushing the portable charger, but there’s a reason…my portable chargers have saved me and many others over the years. In fact, just last night on a flight, the gentleman sitting next to me asked if he might connect to my portable charger. Of course, I shared the charger, but I also suggested he tell his wife a charger would make a great Christmas gift. In fact, they make great gifts for anyone who has a phone and stays on the go. There are lots of great ones out there. I highly recommend any Anker PowerCore product. They can be found on Amazon here.
  • Man Crates. I discovered this company a few years ago, and I know several people (including me) who have gifted Man Crates to folks on their holiday lists. They “curate high-quality, unique, and unusual gifts for guys they’ll love, shipped in wooden crates, ammo cans, concrete bricks, puzzle boxes, and DIY project kits.” It’s a gift that’s different than the regular run-of -the-mill holiday gift. There are crates for whiskey lovers and pizza makers. They have bacon-themed, golf-themed, and hot sauce making kits. And of course, there are sports-themed crates. You have to check their website here.
  • Sports Stuff. If you have a man on your list who loves sports, you can likely find something to his liking at Fanatics. I’ve been shopping Fanatics for years. They have everything from every kind of team…jerseys, tshirts, hoodies, socks, hats, decor…if you know his favorite team, you can likely find something for him at Fanatics. See their website here. Also, don’t forget sports tickets are often the perfect gift for the man on your list. Check Ticketmaster for sporting events in his area.
  • Favorite Tastes. Perhaps the man on your list has some favorite foods he can’t get locally. I have a friend whose husband is from Wisconsin, and he finds it difficult to find good cheese curds in the Carolinas. I told her about my visit to Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a couple of years ago…and their incredible offerings of all things cheese. They even have a website for those who are missing their good Wisconsin cheese, and they will ship your order straight to you. Or perhaps the man on your list loves seafood gumbo from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans? Or lobster rolls from Maine? Or cannolis from Mike’s Pastry in Boston? Or Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding? Tamales from Texas Tamale? Small batch bacon from Bill-E’s in Fairhope, Alabama? Or fresh artichokes from California? You can order all those from Goldbelly. It’s not cheap, but if you’re craving it, they can make it happen. See Goldbelly website here. My mouth is watering just thinking about all those options.
  • On Running. Swiss-engineered running shoes make great gifts, and these are my favorite shoes ever! I should note that I am not a runner, but I wear them for travel and just plain running errands. I see them on other people all the time, and every time, I ask, “Are those your favorite shoes ever?!?!” Every single time, the answer has been a resounding, “Yes!” Personally, I like the original On Running Cloud model, because it’s lightweight and breathable. It almost feels like being barefoot with support. Sounds weird, I know, but that’s what I think. I wear mine with everything…shorts, leggings, even dresses. And when I have them on, I feel like I get a lot more done. Prices start at $129 for the original Cloud. Check the offerings from On Running here.

That’s a wide array of gift options for the men on your holiday list. Happy shopping!

Cooking For The Family

Cooking for the family.

We have a small family…my husband, our daughter, and myself…that’s it. Yet it seems we are always going in different directions. I’m fine with that, because that means we are all still out there enjoying life. We regularly sit down together for meals, but more often than not, they’re not homecooked meals.

Go ahead. I hear it now…tsk, tsk.

I used to cook regularly, but something changed at our house. As our daughter got older, she became more picky (at least it seems that way), and my husband, well, let’s just say he doesn’t eat what I cook. It’s not that I’m a bad cook. It’s that his eating habits are different than most. And that’s OK, but I’m not preparing meals that way. If I did, I’d be preparing the same thing day after day, because that’s how he eats. Again, that’s OK, but I eat like a normal person. I eat a variety of foods. In fact, aside from organ meat, mollusks, and ocean bottom feeders, there’s very little I won’t try, and there’s very little I won’t eat. I am always trying to think of things my daughter and I will both enjoy…and I think I’m on to something.

Recently, as I browsed the produce section of the chain grocery store nearest my house, I came across something I’d never seen before, Steam It! Potatoes from Nature’s Way Farms. Yes, there’s an exclamation point there on purpose, because that’s how it appears on the front of the bag. They offer different types of potatoes you can steam in the bag in your microwave. They don’t even have to be refrigerated, so they can be stored in the pantry instead of taking up valuable refrigerator or freezer space! You can see the website for Nature’s Way Farms here.

Yesterday, I cooked a Mississippi Pot Roast in the Crockpot. If you’ve never had Mississippi Pot Roast, I highly recommend it. It’s an easy family meal that is delicious. You can see the recipe here. I know some people who add carrots and tomatoes directly to the slow cooker with their roast, but I don’t like to do that. I don’t want my potatoes to taste like meat, and I don’t want my roast to taste like potatoes. So, at mealtime, my husband had whatever he is eating this month, and I stuck the bag of red potatoes in the microwave for eight minutes and served them up with the roast for me and our daughter.

In truth, I was expecting the potatoes to be rubbery and tough, like so many things are when cooked in the microwave, but I was pleasantly surprised! They were delicious! And they were perfect with the roast, even though I think our daughter ate more of the potatoes than the roast…I’m just happy she ate something! In fact, they were so good that I could likely make a meal out of a bag of the potatoes sometime. Maybe take them out of the microwave and cut them all up, adding bacon bits, cheese, butter, maybe even some broccoli and sour cream. It would make a great meal, and it would seem like I had put forth a little effort!

I’ve already gone back to the store to purchase more of the potatoes, and this time, I got some of their steam-in-bag sweet potatoes too! I have never met a potato I didn’t like, so I’m thrilled to have found these gems! And I’m encouraging everyone I know to purchase them, so they will keep selling them in our local grocery stores!

If you’re wondering what’s for dinner at my house tonight, I don’t know what the entree will be yet, but I feel pretty sure one of the sides will be Steam It! Potatoes. Here’s a picture:

Two Friends on the Road, Part 3

Two friends on the road, part 3.

My friend, Mary Ann, and I took a road trip from Charlotte to Miami and back last week. I’ve written parts 1 and 2, and part 2 ended with our driving out of the Tequesta/Jupiter area of Florida after attempting to visit Joe Namath’s soon-to-open restaurant…and getting caught accidentally trespassing in the process. Eek!

Our next destination? West Palm Beach, where we needed to try a Cuban restaurant my friend, Linda, raved about. We left Jupiter, and in less than half hour, we were standing in front of Havana Restaurant, right on the corner of Dixie Highway (Hwy 1) and Forest Hill Blvd.

Imagine our surprise when we found the dining room closed. The takeout window facing Dixie Highway was open, so we talked with the ladies there, who told us the takeout window is open 24 hours, but the dining room was open 5pm to 11pm. It was 4pm, so we decided to order an early dinner and dine at one of the outdoor tables on the side of the building. We knew that by the time we finished our early dinner, the dining room would be open, and we could go inside for dessert. We had Tostones Milanesa, Ropa Vieja, and Arroz con Pollo. Wow! The flavors were perfect, and the portions were huge, but we still saved room for dessert…because, well, Cuban desserts.

A little after 5:00, we entered the dining room and were seated immediately. I’ve never been to Cuba, but it certainly gave me vibes I thought were Cuban. The walls featured posters and photos of Cuban singers and stars, many from a bygone era. We loved the atmosphere! Mary Ann had never had Flan, so she ordered that, and I ordered Tres Leches Cake, which I always love, and we both ordered Cafe con Leche. The coffee came first; if you enjoy a good cup of coffee, I recommend you try the coffee at Havana. But when the desserts arrived, we were absolutely overwhelmed! Mary Ann decided she loved Flan. I knew I loved Tres Leches Cake, but this one bowled me over. I can hardly wait to get back to West Palm Beach just so I can get that cake. For more information about Havana Restaurant, click here. We loved it. The servers were absolutely delightful, and the food was fantastic. Highly recommend!

Havana Restaurant’s Tres Leches Cake

We waddled back out to the car after eating too much, and decided we’d stop in Delray Beach for the night. We took the beach road, and as I drove, Mary Ann was searching online for a small, locally-owned place to stay the night. We found Atlantic Hideaway on 6th Avenue. Unfortunately, they had no rooms left for the night. Even though we didn’t get to stay there, we recommend it and will likely try it another time. To see info about Atlantic Hideaway, click here. After driving around looking for other small inns, we finally opted to book at the Courtyard…yes, I know…not a small, locally-owned place, but it was in a great location…and at that point, it was just easy. We booked on the Marriott app, where we also checked in and got a digital key. Parking was in a covered garage. We were thrilled with how large the room was…two king beds…and the whole hotel was remarkably clean and beautiful. I never thought I would call a Courtyard beautiful, but this one definitely was.

After getting our bags to the room, we went out to explore on foot. Delray Beach is a lovely town with lots of cute restaurants and shops. We didn’t need more food after Havana, but we enjoyed walking. We crossed over the drawbridge and visited the beach. Of course, we took lots of photos along the way.

We slept well, and when we got up the next morning, we spent a couple of hours checking out Delray Beach, resolving to return soon. It’s the kind of place I could live out my retirement…seriously, it could happen.

In the afternoon, we got back on A1A, driving south through Highland Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Pompano Beach. We knew Miami Beach was our southernmost destination, so we made a hotel reservation and dinner reservations while we drove…more on that later. We didn’t make any stops till we got to Pompano, and we were past due for some lunch, since we hadn’t eaten breakfast. We had just said we were feeling “lunchy” when we saw a sign for Great Indian Grill. We both love Indian food, so we took a chance and were so glad we did! The place was small…just three tables…but with only two employees, it had a friendly, personal vibe. The chef, Jay, took our orders, and offered suggestions. He suggested Chicken Tikka Masala as an appetizer and Lamb Biryani and Shrimp Curry for lunch. Yum! Everything he prepared was perfect, and we felt like he was our personal chef! In some Indian restaurants, the flavors can be overwhelming, but Jay prepared them in such a way that the flavors melded perfectly. Everything was delicious. For info on Great Indian Grill, click here. We thanked our new friend, Jay, profusely before getting on the road to Miami.

As we drove away, we remembered reading that a Goodyear Blimp Airbase is in Pompano Beach, so Mary Ann checked her phone, and we decided to make a quick drive past the hangar, in hopes a blimp would be parked outside. As we approached, we realized we were getting more than that! A blimp was outside, indeed…getting prepared for takeoff! We had no idea where it was going, but when it took off, it flew low directly above us! As it started to circle low around the base, I realized it was doing a fly by and was going to land again! What a treat to watch it take off and land! I’ve seen the Goodyear blimp countless times, but I had never seen it take off and land, so this was fun! Once we knew it wouldn’t be taking off again, we got on the road. For info on the Goodyear Blimp Airbase, click here.

The blimp landing in the background, and a man biking through my selfie!

We rolled into Miami with Will Smith singing Miami on the car speakers, and eventually switched over to Pit Bull…just to get the vibe for the 305.

As I mentioned earlier, we had made a hotel reservation. We opted to stay at Eden Roc, because it’s in mid-beach (not South Beach!), and because they have valet parking. There were other factors too…Nobu restaurant and Malibu Farm restaurant are both at Eden Roc.

Upon arrival at Eden Roc, we were greeted warmly by the valet and bell staff. Check-in was quick and easy, and our room on the seventh floor gave us a pool view and partial ocean view. We got cleaned up and went downstairs to Malibu Farm for our cocktail reservation before moving to Nobu for our dinner. Mary Ann had never dined at Nobu, but I have dined at several, so I knew it would be a fabulous experience. It most definitely was. Nobu never disappoints. In fact, Mary Ann has called me several times since, still talking about that Nobu meal. I’d love to list everything we ordered, but we let the server decide for us, so we didn’t know the names of everything…but it was fantastic! For info on Malibu Farm, click here…and Nobu info, click here.

We went to bed happy, dreaming of the Nobu meal we’d just had!

We knew we had one day in Miami, so the next morning we picked a couple of things we wanted to do. I have no love for South Beach, so that was off the table. We knew we wanted to visit Calle Ocho…you can’t go to Miami without visiting Little Havana/Calle Ocho. We also wanted to visit the Wynwood Walls.

So after a quick drive around the Art Deco and South Beach area, we drove west, across MacArthur Causeway to Calle Ocho, where we had another great Cuban meal at Versailles. It’s a a tourist trap, but there were locals there too, and frankly, the easy parking was a factor in our decision. To see more about Versailles, click here. We left there and took a few pictures in Little Havana before going to the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum of murals by American and international artists. It’s actually blocks of murals on building and walls, but now there is a part of the area that charges for entry. It’s $10 per person, and it’s money well spent. We spent about an hour there, admiring the murals and taking photos. We loved it. And of course, at the end, I had to go into the gift shop to purchase some postcards…it’s what I do. For more about The Wynwood Walls, click here.

We left there, driving north with no idea where we would stop. More next time…in part 4 of the series.

My Food/Beverage Guilty Pleasures

My food/beverage guilty pleasures.

I don’t know if everyone has food and beverage guilty pleasures, but I definitely do. There are some things I simply cannot pass up…and some things I crave. I have some guilty pleasures that are labeled as guilty pleasures simply because of the calorie content. But I have other guilty food and beverage pleasures that are guilty pleasures because they are trashy and cheap.

When I was pregnant in 2003, I craved birthday cake. No, not expensive birthday cakes. I craved the, as we called them, “el cheapo” birthday cakes from the local grocery store. I don’t know if it was the cake part or the frosting, but I craved them…and I treated myself once a week. Actually, my husband would pick up a small birthday cake, labeled a “patty cake,” once a week when he went to the store. He was a regular at the grocery store, so we used to laugh and laugh at the conversations the employees likely had every time he walked out with another cake…they probably thought he had a whole house full of kids. Nope…just one pregnant wife.

These days, if I crave a quick and easy cake, it’s more likely to be one from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Holy smokes, those things are good! We joke at our house that they must put some secret addictive ingredient in them, because once you have one, you keep craving them. If you haven’t had one, you should. They have store locations in lots of places. We are fortunate to have a couple of different locations in the Charlotte area, and one is just a few miles from our house. We don’t go often, but when we do, we stock up! Our personal favorite? The chocolate/chocolate chip with cream cheese frosting. We also like the Raspberry/White Chocolate. Oh, who am I kidding?! We wouldn’t turn down any of them! To see the website for Nothing Bundt Cakes, click here.

But I am a little ashamed to say I crave some cakes that are even cheaper than the regular grocery store cakes. Cheaper than a grocery store cake? And more embarrassing? Yep. Here’s my embarrassing cake guilty pleasure: Hostess Birthday Cupcakes. You likely remember the Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes with the white swirls you’d see in stores as a kid…they came in packs of two. Well, Hostess also makes Birthday Cupcakes. They taste, to me, like Twinkies with cheap frosting on top…but I’m not gonna lie…I’m completely addicted to them. I think about them all the time, but I only buy them once every few months. Each little cupcake in the two-pack has 180 calories, so I must refrain on a regular basis. But sometimes…I give in and go buy some. I’m not going to tell you where I buy them locally, because well, I want to be able to find them when I want them, but you can look on the Hostess website here. In truth, when I browse the Hostess website, I see there are lots of Hostess brand treats I’d love to try. But since I only allow myself to have those treat every couple of months, it will likely be a while before I can try them all. Does anyone else remember having Honeybuns as breakfast or snacks as a kid? Hostess makes them!

My cookie guilty pleasure comes from Tiff’s Treats in Charlotte. I discovered this place when someone sent me a box of them a year or two ago. My daughter and I couldn’t stop eating them! These cookies are yummy! My favorite flavor? The M&M cookies…they take me back to my childhood when my aunt used to make them. What makes Tiff’s Treats even better? They deliver! If you join them as an “elite” member, you even get free delivery and monthly specials! And if you send them to someone, you can also send cold milk or ice cream! I highly recommend this guilty pleasure. Check them out online here.

I also have a fried food guilty pleasure. All my friends know what it is, because I order it any time we go to Ilios Noche. If you haven’t visited Ilios Noche on Providence Road in South Charlotte, it’s high time you did. And when you do, order this guilty pleasure: Zucchini and Eggplant Chips. You’ll thank me later. They are lightly breaded and fried and served with tzatziki. You’ll keep going back for them, no doubt. See the Ilios Noche website here.

Other food guilty pleasures? Chips and salsa from Paco’s Tacos and Tequila in Charlotte, The Bento Box from Cowfish in Charlotte, soufflés from a favorite restaurant, and the Hazelnut cookie from a favorite restaurant. I could tell you where they are, but then they’d likely disappear before I could ever get them…some guilty pleasures should remain a secret, I suppose.

Now I’m likely to really disgust some of you with my beverage guilty pleasure. No, it’s not Mountain Dew or any other super sugary soda. It’s not Kool Aid, Hawaiian Punch, or Hi-C. I will readily admit I loved Kool-Aid as a kid. Everyone did in the 70s…if your mother allowed you to have it. Ours definitely did. In fact, I drank so much grape Kool-Aid that…embarrassing as this is…my poop turned blue. It’s true. Yikes! But back to the topic at hand…my embarrassing guilty beverage pleasure is a drink called Verdi Sparkletini. You likely haven’t heard of it, and that’s because it’s not something you’d likely buy. It is sold in the wine aisle, but the label calls it a “malt beverage.” It’s usually less than $6 a bottle. Go ahead and laugh. I know it’s cheap and trashy. And I think you are supposed to chill the bottle and serve it. However, I was introduced to it last summer when someone I know (I won’t let her secret out) served it to me over ice. Now, I’m not a beverage snob, so I didn’t care, and I was happy to try it…lucky for me! That day, we had the watermelon flavor, but they also make a yummy raspberry flavor and a peach flavor. In all seriousness, served over ice, they taste like spritzers. I offered one to a friend last summer at the beach, and she turned her nose up at it, telling me, “That cheap stuff gives me headaches.” I begged her to try it, and after we finished the bottle, we were both really relaxed…and neither of us ever got a headache! In fact, my friend ended up liking it so much that she secretly purchases a bottle every couple of days! Check your local grocery stores in the sparkling wine aisle (even thought I’m not sure it’s really wine). And it won’t turn your poop blue!

Oh, how I love my guilty food and beverage pleasures! Did I mention Guthrie’s chicken fingers that I have to pick up and bring home in a cooler any time I drive through Opelika, Alabama? Yeah…that’s a little embarrassing…I run into the restaurant (it’s co-branded with a gas station) and order the big bucket of chicken fingers. Then while they’re getting those ready, I run over to the gas station section and purchase a bag of ice and a styrofoam cooler. I fill up the cooler with the ice and put them in my car before I run back into Guthrie’s to get the chicken fingers. I put them on ice and drive the rest of the way to Charlotte! My daughter meets me at the door for those Guthrie’s chicken fingers every time! See their website here.

Now I’m feeling the need to drive to Opelika…

Weird (or Disgusting?) Canned Foods

Weird (or disgusting?) canned foods.

Recently, a friend invited me to join a Facebook group dedicated to weird foods and recipes. Honestly, I am totally addicted to it…the page, not the weird foods…because there are so many crazy posts. Every day…heck, several times a day…I see something posted there that just blows my mind. So many times, I’ve thought, “Who would eat that?!?!”

Yesterday, I shared a picture of Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken on my personal Facebook page, and it got quite a reaction. Here’s the photo:

Most of the comments were right in line with my own thinking. “What the heck?!?!” “How disgusting!” “Why????” Seriously, I can’t understand why someone would want to purchase a whole cooked chicken in a can, but to each his own. If you’ve ever used one for a recipe or just eaten it straight out of the can, please let me know…blech!!!

And that made me start thinking about other canned foods. I’ve eaten some pretty disgusting canned foods…Vienna sausages would be at the top of the list. When I was little, I loved Vienna sausages. Back then, lots of southerners called them “Vi-een-a” sausages, but even with a fancy name, they’re nothing short of disgusting. Spam? You betcha. I ate it when I was a little girl. I didn’t love it then, and I can’t even imagine eating it now.

I’ve made tuna salad with canned tuna and chicken salad with canned chicken (not the whole one, mind you), but for whatever reason, I don’t think those are disgusting…maybe because I know other people use them for salads too? As a child, I ate salmon patties made by my mother from canned salmon. Yuck. My brother ate canned sardines any time he went fishing with my uncle or grandfather. I don’t know why that seemed like a good idea, but they did it. Personally, I would have just taken a peanut butter sandwich with me if I needed protein…but they took sardines.

A year or two ago, I watched a video of a man eating a can of seal meat. I don’t remember exactly what the circumstances were…either he lost a bet or he was going to win a lot of money if he ate it without vomiting. He did it, but not without gagging. Ugh. It was disgusting and funny at the same time. Fortunately, since it was just a video, I couldn’t get the aroma from the canned seal meat, but it was clearly a bad odor.

For a less disgusting canned food option, this summer I tried canned bread. Apparently, it’s pretty common in New England, but I had never heard of it till May or June of this year. I don’t even know where I read about it, but as soon as I did, I ordered some on Amazon. The brand? B&M. Honestly, when I first saw what brand it was, I was a little taken aback. Why would anyone put a giant B with a giant M on a can? My mind went straight to “bowel movement,” but I was able to get past it. When the cans arrived, I packed them in my luggage to take to the beach, where we were meeting friends. I thought it would be a fun treat. And it was actually pretty darn good! Ours was raisin bread, and we toasted it and buttered it…if I’d had a little cinnamon sugar, I would have topped it with that too, but it wasn’t bad without it. If I were stuck somewhere and needed food, I could definitely survive on canned bread.

A friend says she grew up eating Dromedary Canned Date Nut Bread and loved it with cream cheese. I looked online to see if I could buy it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I found several recipes, and on Vermont Country Store, I found a loaf of date nut bread. I remember the Drapers on Mad Men having it on special occasions…I definitely need to try it. I’ll be ordering from Vermont Country Store here.

There are lots of other canned foods I haven’t tried. I’ve seen canned macaroni & cheese and canned potato salad in my local grocery store. I’ll be buying them soon, just to see what it’s like. As a kid, I ate Chef Boyardee canned spaghetti and canned ravioli…both of which sound absolutely disgusting to me now. I remember seeing jars (does that count as canned?) of pickled pigs’ feet in gas stations, and I’ve heard you can buy canned bacon and canned hot dogs. Not sure I need to try either of those, but maybe I should just so I can say I’ve had the experience? I’ll be scouring the shelves of my local grocery store…and after I’ve tried them, I’ll post about them.

Till then, I’ll be trying to recover from the stomach ache I have from thinking of these various canned items. Ick.

Happy-Up the House

Happy-up the house.

Everybody’s sick of being home right now. It’s not just me. It’s not just you. It’s everybody.  I’ve said before that every day, I wake up wondering if this is all a bad dream. It’s not. It’s reality.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be terrible.

I spend a lot of time trying to think of ways to make things a little happier around here. We’re playing music throughout the house on a regular basis. We’re spending a lot of time out in the sun on the patio on warmer days. My daughter and I strung some LED lights around her bedroom doors and windows…she can change the colors with a remote…pink, blue, violet, red…all kinds of colors. We’ve been baking. I’m constantly looking online for different ideas to brighten up things around our house. What can I do to make it seem a little more festive around here?

Last week, it was Krispy Kreme doughnuts all the time. Looking for somewhere…anywhere…to go, I would leave after dark and drive to the nearest Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and my daughter would gladly go with me. The last time we went, we got a dozen of their spring mini doughnuts. Yum. That added a little happiness for a while. I’ve ordered cupcakes, cookies…you name it.

And then, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a picture of someone’s pool, and it had floating light balls in it! Immediately, I knew I had to have them! I went straight to Amazon and typed in “floating light balls.” Wow! There were lots of them to choose from, so I set about reading every review I could possibly read in a reasonable amount of time.

Within an hour or so, I had found the solar-powered color changing floating light balls I wanted, and I placed an order for four. You can order here. What makes a swimming pool more festive at night than color-changing light balls? In placing my order, I also discovered that not only can you use them in the pool, but you can also hang them! Each ball has a loop on top, so you can hang them from trees, eaves, posts…anywhere! I could hardly wait for them to arrive! I knew my husband would think I was absolutely nuts, but when have I ever let that stop me before?

A few days later, they were delivered to our home. The next morning, I woke up, and started opening the box. My husband asked me what it was, and when I said, “You’re going to think I’m crazy. It’s something for the pool.” When I told him the box contained floating light balls,  interestingly, he didn’t think I was crazy at all! He also didn’t help me blow them up. Each one is about 15 inches in diameter, and I blew them up while we watched the morning news. He did look at me several times and say, “You’re going to get a headache.” But I didn’t. Once I had them all inflated, I hurried outside to put them in the pool. Since they are solar powered, I wanted them out there all day to absorb as much sunlight as possible so we could enjoy them in the evening.

And guess what? We’ve sat outside on the patio having cocktails every night since, and those balls of light are glorious! And happy! It adds an element of happiness to our backyard! I’m so glad I ordered them, and secretly, I think my husband is too! Our daughter loves them, and she and I agreed I need to order more to hang from the front eaves of the poolhouse, so I ordered more to hang from the eave. They should arrive in a few days, and they will add a little more happiness. And when summer is over, and we aren’t using the patio as much, maybe I will use them as Christmas decor in the trees in the front yard!

I’m still thinking about other inexpensive ways to brighten things up around here while we’re stuck at home. If you have any ideas, please send them my way!

Hanging With The Teenage Daughter (during the COVID-19 crisis)

Hanging with the teenage daughter (during the COVID-19 crisis).

I’m getting accustomed to it. I hate to admit it, but I’m getting accustomed to “sheltering in place.” If you had told me I wouldn’t be completely stir crazy after this many days at home, I never would have believed you. It’s likely there are several reasons, but I think the main one is our daughter.

Our daughter is 16, so in “normal” life, she’s rarely home. She has school Monday-Friday, like most kids, and after school, she “normally” goes straight to lacrosse practice in the spring. She doesn’t get home till around 6:00pm, and then she has to finish her homework. That leaves very little time for us to to spend together. Sure, there are weekends, but she is quite social, so she wants to hang with friends on weekends. I get it. I remember 16.

I’m not happy that people are suffering and even dying with COVID-19. We say prayers for them every day, and we are trying to observe all “shelter in place” rules. We are at home most of the time, except when we go out for “essentials.”

And while “sheltering in place” initially sounded terrible, having my daughter around more is great. She’s doing her school work online during the day Monday -Friday, but in the afternoons and evenings, we’ve been spending more time together. Our world has slowed down a little, and I’m trying to appreciate the slowdown.

Yesterday, for example, she took a break in her schoolwork to come down for lunch and asked if I would make her some avocado toast for lunch. I was thrilled to get to do that for her, but our avocados weren’t ripe enough yet, so I made her some peanut butter/banana toast. She was happy. Normally, during the week, I don’t get to sit with her for lunch, because she’s at school. Afterward, she went back to finish her studies, and later, she sat outside by the pool with me for a while…something else she wouldn’t normally be able to do on a weekday. ***I’ve since been informed that I can soften an avocado by sticking it in the microwave briefly.***

At dinnertime, we opted to go get takeout from a local favorite Mexican restaurant, something we had both been missing since all this started. We came home and had dinner as a family, and then I suggested we go for a walk around the neighborhood. I was thrilled when she said it sounded like a great idea…and off we went!

The night before, we all lay out on the patio as a family…looking at the stars and watching for satellites to identify using the SkyGuide app. Our daughter didn’t stay out as long as we did, but she seemed to enjoy it. She was much better at spotting satellites moving through the night sky, because her eyesight is better than ours, and it was obvious she was enjoying it when she would exclaim, “I see one!” She would then tell us where to look, and I would try to find it on SkyGuide to see what country launched it and how big it was. Would she have willingly gone out there for stargazing under “normal” circumstances? Probably not. She likely wouldn’t have been home or would have been doing homework.

Tonight, my daughter and I are going to start watching Tiger King, presently the #1 series on Netflix. We don’t alway agree on shows, and when I first suggested this one, she wasn’t interested. But when a teenage boy told her it was really good, she changed her tune. No, I wasn’t offended. Like I said, I remember 16. We have a few more series “on deck” to watch after we watch Tiger King. We will likely watch All-American on Netflix, Peyton’s Places on ESPN+, and a few more sports-oriented shows, since we miss our sports right now.

Additionally, she has been helping around the house…today, she will do some laundry and cook dinner for the family. She and I are going to sit down in a little while and find the perfect recipe for her to make a chicken dish for us. She loves spinach, so she will likely sauté some spinach for the side dish.

So while this COVID-19 crisis is terrible for individuals, public health, and the economy, we are using it as a time to strengthen our little family. We were a pretty tight unit anyway, but I feel like we are getting a gift of extra time with our daughter. She will be going off to college in 2022, so I’m happy to have some extra time with her. No, the reason for the extra time isn’t ideal, but I’m trying to look at the bright side. I’m making lemonade out of lemons.

We are hopeful that the pandemic will be under control sooner rather than later, but till then, we plan to enjoy this time with our daughter. Sure, we all miss sports. We all miss friends and extended family. We all miss “normal,” but we’re trying to make the best of the cards we’ve been dealt.

Till then, we’ll be hanging out with our teenage daughter.

Host a Virtual Brunch

I want to host a virtual brunch.

For the past few years, I have hosted at least one spring brunch for friends at my house, but this year will be different. No spring brunch, unless I get creative. My friends will need to be creative too, but maybe I can find a few who are willing to do a virtual spring brunch while we’re all “social distancing.” I talked to a lady at the bank (on the phone, of course) who told me she’d enjoyed a virtual cocktail hour with friends the night before, so why not a brunch?

Here’s what I’m thinking:

I’ll pick a future date (but not too distant) that might be good for a few friends. We can use the Zoom app to all “get together.” But how do we do brunch together through the app?

First, we all need to set a dress code. Personally, I think it should be spring luncheon dress…pretty dresses or blouses that will cheer us all up. I have a Saloni dress I got for Easter last year that would work perfectly. The fabric is bright pink, blue, orange, yellow, and green flowers on a white background. It has ruffles and looks very happy and seasonal. So I will encourage everyone to wear a happy, spring dress or blouse.

For decor, I think it will be fun to let everyone decide their own decor for their space, but make it as happy and springlike as possible! I will likely use my mother’s Desert Rose china and decorate my “space” around that…pink and green…with whatever I can find around my house. Or I have some other pretty spring china of Mother’s that’s blue and green…that could be pretty too. I’ll definitely use my sterling silverware instead of stainless…just to make it feel more special. And crystal glasses.  If I can find some pretty flowers outside in the neighborhood, I’ll use those too.

And how about the menu? Should we all have the same things? That could be tough, since we don’t all have access to the same things. But it will be interesting to see what everyone has! I know I have plenty of pimiento cheese, so I can make some finger sandwiches for my meal. I have some strawberries, so I can have those. Maybe I’ll make a Slow Cooker Breakfast Casserole from the Hungry Girl website. (Click here for recipe.) I’m having to think in terms of what I actually have on hand. For my beverage of choice, I’ll go with Prosecco…I have a lot on hand. If I have any fruit juice on hand, I’ll make a froufrou drink, but if not, I’m cool with Prosecco. And for dessert, I’ll have cupcakes from Baked By Melissa (click here), because I know I have an order arriving soon. They’ll add some color!

This pandemic is certainly not fun, because these are trying times, but it’s OK to look for a little happiness where we can. We’ll say some prayers for those who are sick and their families, and we’ll pray for those who have lost jobs or businesses. A little bit of “virtual” happiness might make us feel better for a little while. I think I’ll send out some virtual invitations today!

Stay safe. Stay well. And stay hopeful.

Portion-Controlled Desserts? Yes, Please!

Portion-controlled desserts? Yes, please!

If you’re anything like me, you have difficulty knowing what a real “serving” of cake is. Big slice? Little slice? What is the perfect slice? And then…how do I keep myself from eating more than I should?

Hungry Girl to the rescue!

Everybody knows I love Hungry Girl. Not familiar with Hungry Girl? I’m happy to introduce you! When you get to the website, sign up for daily emails, click that you heard about them from a Hungry Girl Ambassador (me!), and enter my name (Kelly Mattei). I’ve loved Hungry Girl for years, and I’ve promoted Hungry Girl for years, but now they know I’m promoting them! I don’t promote anything I don’t believe in, so you can bet your sweet bippy I believe in Hungry Girl.

On to the good stuff…

One of my favorite finds on the Hungry Girl website? Portion-controlled desserts…specifically, single serving desserts in mugs and cups. Sounds awesome, right?!? That’s because they are awesome!

I’ve made a couple of them, and my teenage daughter loves them as much as I do! They are all super simple and fast!

Here are some of my favorites!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug. My mother used to make Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes all the time when I was growing up. There was always at least one at every family gathering, and they disappeared fast! This Hungry Girl version is simple and easy, and the recipe makes two portions, each containing 201 calories. Not bad for a yummy and beautiful dessert! It’s a favorite at our house. I’ve made it when friends have come over for coffee, and it’s always a hit! Did I mention it’s beautiful too?! Get the recipe here.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup. Another “easy as pie” recipe from Hungry Girl, this one is fun for kids too! (Do not let children make this unaccompanied. The pie is HOT when it comes out of the microwave!) It has candy and graham crackers in it! ‘Nuff said! And fruit! It has fruit! At only 140 calories per serving, it makes for a great dessert the whole family will love! I think it even sounds good for a snow day. My daughter loves to have friends over for snow days, and I love to feed them! Get the recipe here.

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two. Who doesn’t love chocolate cake?! This one comes in at 199 calories per serving, and the serving size is not in question, because it’s cooked in the perfect portion! This is another one that sounds good for a snow day or for friends who come over for coffee. The ingredient list is short, and most of the ingredients are likely on hand all the time. Make yourself happy with a little chocolate cake! Hungry Girl tells you how this age-old treat without overdoing it! Get the recipe here.

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two

This is just a sampling of what Hungry Girl offers in portion-controlled dessert recipes. Seriously, try them. Anyone can make them…even those “kitchen challenged” friends of mine. You can see more portion-controlled desserts from Hungry Girl here.

We are hoping for a little snow in Charlotte over the next couple of days, so I’m going to the store and stocking up on ingredients for these gems tonight! All kids who love to sled are welcome to join in the fun…and eat some yummy desserts too! Moms…come on over for coffee, and I will share desserts with you too!

*Please let me know when you try these recipes! I love to get feedback!*

***All photos courtesy of hungry-girl.com***