My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018: Part 8, Southern Gifts

For our friends who live in other parts of the country, or even other parts of the world, it’s fun to send regional gifts. For me, that means sending something that represents the flavor and culture of THE SOUTH. I’ve written about some of these before, but they’re worth mentioning again. You might even want to “gift” some to yourself!  Here are my selections:

Hi Y’all. Holy moly…this is one of my new favorite sites. Based in Starkville, Mississippi, this fun company started in 2012, according to their website. A friend whose daughter is a student at nearby Mississippi State University told me about this company, and I can’t stop perusing the website. They produce handprinted pillows, apparel, prints, and custom paintings…and I love them all! Of course, they have a southern theme, and anything they have would make a great gift for a fellow southerner or someone who has never visited the south. See the website here.

 

Pepperoni Rolls. Country Club Bakery, Fairmont, West Virginia. I’ve just placed an order. I saw a story about these on CBS Sunday Morning (you can see it here), and I can hardly wait to receive them. This was one I hesitated to share, because I want them to be my secret. Alas, I couldn’t resist telling y’all about them too. Y’all are going to wish you lived in West Virginia. Pepperoni rolls were introduced in WV when Italian immigrants went there to work in the mines, and pepperoni rolls were the perfect hand-held snack that wouldn’t spoil in their lunches. You can order yours here.

Olde Colony Bakery Benne Wafers. Based the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Olde Colony offers Benne Wafers, which are basically Sesame seed cookies. They’ve been a part of the culture of Charleston for hundreds of years, and Olde Colony has been making them since 1940. Representing a taste of the history of the Charleston area, send these to some friends in other parts of the country, or get some for yourself. Shop here.

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GooGoo Cluster. I don’t know if GooGoo Clusters are sold everywhere, but even if they are, they are fun to send! Made in Nashville, Tennessee, these treats containing marshmallow nougat, caramel, peanuts, and covered in chocolate have been around since 1912, and they’ve survived for a good reason: they’re yummy! Standard Candy, the makers of the clusters, was an early sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry, selling the candy at shows there in the 1920s. They are definitely a taste of the south! Send a box to someone in another part of the country as a Christmas treat! See their website here.

Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Straight out of New Orleans, these sweet treats are definitely a taste of the deep, Deep South. They are described on the website as “creamy and sugary, with hints of vanilla and delicate, melt in your mouth texture.” Pralines are definitely sweet and creamy with just the right number of pecans. They know what they’re doing at Aunt Sally’s. There are lots of great pralines throughout the south, but I went with one from New Orleans, since that’s where they originated in the US. With prices starting at $14.95 for a box of the treats, this is a great gift to send. See the website here.

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King Cakes. Since we’re talking about New Orleans, I should mention King Cakes. Traditionally a Mardi Gras treat, Haydel’s Bakery makes a Christmas version and a candy cane version. If you’ve never experienced a King Cake, the holidays might be the perfect time. And anyone anywhere would love to receive one, because they are fun and delicious. They’re not cheap, though. Priced at $53, they include some beads and a pack of French Market Coffee. You can get their Cajun Kringle starting at $43.95, or as a package with French Market Coffee and a Christmas towel for $55. See Haydel’s here. .

 

Videri Chocolate. This company in Raleigh, North Carolina, makes an assortment of delicious chocolate products…hot chocolate, bonbons, chocolate bars, and even teabags. And they’re not only delicious, they’re beautiful too! And the packaging! I’m sending some friends some of their Jingle Bell Caramels ($21) this Christmas. I’ll be sending myself some too! You know…one for you, one for me. Prices start at $6 for bars. See Videri Chocolate Factory here.

South Georgia Pecan Company. I was introduced to this company, located in Valdosta, Georgia, by a friend who used to live there. She gave me a bag of their Chocolate Amaretto Pecans, and it was love at first bite. She also told me a secret to making them even better…store them in the freezer! Since then, I’ve ordered them for friends and myself too! Check out their website here. 

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The Alabama Sweet Tea Company. A friend recently told me about this company that’s based in Montgomery, Alabama. She loves their full-flavored tea, which you can purchase by the box, and she loves their other products too! Fun fact: their tea is served at Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas…maybe you’ve heard of it on HGTV? You can purchase their tea on their website, but their gear is fun too! Their t-shirts, tumblers, and hats are pure southern. I think my friends at Front Porch Football (see them here) will like these shirts! See the website here. 

Loveless Cafe, Nashville. Opened in 1951, this “down home” establishment is known around the world for its southern-style biscuits and pies. Back in the day, there was an adjacent 14-room motel, but it closed in 1985, and the rooms were converted into shops and office space. The cafe is going strong in 2018, and you can order jams, bacon, hams, a cookbook, mixes, and all sorts of Loveless paraphernalia. It definitely represents the south. I may send the cookbook to a friend who writes her own cookbooks of healthy recipes…she might enjoy trying to decrease the calories and fat in some of the down home recipes. Shop Loveless Cafe here.

Holy Spirit Monastery Gifts. Located in Conyers, GA, the Holy Spirit Monastery has a gift shop that helps support the monks. They sell honey, biscotti, and more, but the most southern gift they make is their fudge. The monks make the fudge by hand on premises, and a friend tells me it’s delicious. Plus, they have one flavor called Southern Touch that contains peach morsels, pecans, and a touch of brandy. Wow! Boxes containing 12 ounces of fudge are $12.95. Shop it here.

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30a Gear. Nothing says “Florida panhandle” like 30a Gear. If you’re thinking “Florida doesn’t have the flavor of the south,” you’ve never visited the very southern panhandle. 30a is a beach lifestyle brand that was created by a man from Birmingham, Alabama, when he moved to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. With the panhandle being in disrepair after Hurricane Michael, I needed to include a business from there. You’ve likely seen 30a gear, and some of you likely had no idea what it meant. Well, Hwy 30A is a beach road through the panhandle of Florida. I could get more specific, but that’s the gist. It’s a beautiful stretch of beach, and it’s very popular. Shop here.

 

Edgar’s Bakery Cheese Straws. It’s no secret to my friends and family that I love anything Edgar’s Bakery makes. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, but with several locations, this bakery makes my very favorite strawberry cake. Alas, it cannot be shipped. But they can ship their gift tins. With prices starting at $16.50, you can ship a tin of their housemade cheese straws (also my favorite) or wedding cookies. The cheese straws will make you want a tall glass of sweet tea! Shop here.

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Sweet Potato Sweets. Straight from the Sweet Potato Capital of the World, Vardaman, Mississippi, Sweet Potato Sweets offers lots of goodies made from…you guessed it, sweet potatoes. Bread and pies and cakes, oh my! Personally, I never met a sweet potato I didn’t like, especially when a little sugar is added. Representing the true south, anything you send from Sweet Potato Sweets will be welcomed with open arms. I’ll be ordering some of their breads. Shop here.

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There you have it! Wanna share a little bit of the south with someone who doesn’t live here? Send them any one of these items, and they will feel the southern love! Or order some for yourself. I’m placing some orders right now.

 

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If Only I Could Call Them

When Daddy was dying, it seemed the thing he hated most about dying was thinking about what he was going to miss. He said he wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him, but he was sad he would miss his family, and he would miss some of the big moments.

I think, we, the ones left behind, often feel the same thing. There are lots of times I think, “I wish Daddy were here to see this.” And since December, I often think, “I wish I could call Mother and tell her about this.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wishing they were here more than usual. I always miss them, but situations arise that I would love to share with them, and that’s when I really wish they were here.

In May, I wrote a piece titled Behind That White Picket Fence (click here to see it) about how we never know what’s going on in someone’s private life. A friend from college commented on my post, making me think of Mother and something that happened twenty years ago.

When I was about 30, a friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her name is Susan, and I think she was 28 or 29 at the time. She was/is married (in fact, I introduced her to her husband) and while her husband was supportive, her parents jumped right in to help. Her husband needed to work and couldn’t be there all the time, so her parents took turns spending the night at the hospital with her and stayed during the day, as well. She had  complications after surgery, but they were there to advocate for her. If I remember correctly, she was in the hospital for months.

During this time, my maternal grandmother and a friend of hers were breezing through Mobile on a trip and stopped in to visit Mother. We will call the friend Gladys. Mother had never met Gladys and frankly, found her to be rather harsh. They were there for a few hours, so Mother didn’t jump to that conclusion quickly.

While they were there, insurance became the topic of conversation. Gladys, at some point, complained about her insurance agent, saying he had not been responsive over recent months. When she mentioned his name, Mother knew she had to say something. She responded, “Well, I’m sure you don’t know, but his young daughter has colon cancer. She’s had surgery and complications, and he has been spending days and nights at the hospital with her. If he hasn’t been responsive, that’s a good reason. God bless him.”

That evening, Mother called me to tell me what had happened, and she was a little hot under the collar. Of course, I reminded her Gladys probably had no idea, and while Mother realized that, she was miffed Gladys wasn’t giving Susan’s dad, her insurance agent for 30 years, the benefit of the doubt.

So, after Susan commented on Behind That Picket Fence, I sent her a message telling her about the exchange. She responded by telling me she was happy to hear my mother had interceded. She reminded me her daddy had stayed with her in the hospital and had even devised a way to wash her hair, simply because he knew it was something he could do that would make her feel a little better. He made some sort of “contraption” that made it possible for him to wash her hair while she was lying in bed. The nurses didn’t want him to do it, but he did, and Susan immediately felt better. Afterward, the nurses started started using the same contraption and method to wash the hair of other patients.

That exchange with my friend was one of those moments I wish Mother were here. I wanted to call and tell her I had shared the story with Susan, and in response, she told me what great things her daddy did for her. In fact, Susan told me her daddy was retired by the time she was diagnosed, so no wonder he wasn’t responsive! He was no longer the agent!

But I couldn’t call Mother. She would have loved that story.

There are also things I’d love to share with my daddy. Just this week, I had lunch with my cousin, Ardrue, who lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, about an hour away. Ardrue and I started getting together over the past couple of years. We had never met until early 2016, but I had heard about Ardrue my entire life. She is my daddy’s first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

When I say I’d heard about Ardrue my entire life, I mean it. I remember, as a little girl, hearing Daddy and Aunt Katie talk about Ardrue. I don’t remember the stories, but who can forget a name like Ardrue? I’ve told her this, so it’s OK…I remember asking daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I remember seeing pictures of a little girl/teenage Ardrue when I would go through old pictures. Her name appeared on the backs of several pictures.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to Alabama to go through pictures and find some to bring back to show her.

Ardrue has told me stories about my daddy as a young man, and she has shared stories about the family, as well. When we are talking, I love when she mentions a familiar name in one of her stories. Sometimes she is even surprised I recognize a name. Most of the times, I recognize the names from stories Daddy used to tell…he was a good storyteller. She is a charming lady with a great sense of humor. I’ll have to ask her if a sense of humor runs in the family. It’s hard to tell, because in all the old pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents, they all look so serious.

And this is one of those times I wish Daddy were here. He would be thrilled Ardrue and I  get together. Not only that, but we enjoy each other’s company! He would want to sit right there with us, laughing and talking. The two of them would be able to reminisce and remind each other of things that happened when they were children.

But I can’t call Daddy. He can’t join us for lunch. He would have loved spending time with Ardrue.

And recently, when our daughter was away for two weeks on a group trip to Iceland and not allowed to use her phone to call home, Mother and Daddy would have commiserated with me. They likely would have been calling me three times a day to ask if there had been any email updates from the group leaders.

While it’s painful immediately following the loss of a parent, there are other times that are difficult too. Interestingly, for me, it’s usually the happy times that I miss them. I wish they could see my daughter play lacrosse and field hockey. Daddy would have loved watching her play basketball too. I used to always call Mother from my car after I dropped off my daughter somewhere, and I would call her after any of my daughter’s games and give her the post-game wrap-up. That was a habit that was hard to break after Mother passed.  I wish I could just pick up the phone and call both of them to tell them funny stories, talk about trivial stuff, and brag about my daughter. They would love knowing my brother and I talk almost every day, and we still call each other to get answers to trivial questions. And they would be so happy to know we have been vacationing together.

But I can’t call them.

If only I could call them…