You know you’re in an Italian family when somebody gives you cheese as a wedding gift.
That’s exactly what happened to my (understandably baffled) husband and me, when my aunt and uncle presented us with a 20 pound wheel of aged Asiago procured at great cost and effort from the Italian market in Philadelphia.
Never mind that, at the time, we were living in a garage apartment and the cheese occupied fully one-third of our refrigerator. Or the fact that, two weeks after the honeymoon, we moved to my in-laws’ empty house for the winter. All the wedding presents—the china, the crystal, the cookware—got boxed up and shuttled off to storage before I could so much as admire a plate. But the cheese…that came with us.
The following summer, happily ensconced in our first home, I hauled the wheel down to a local shop for grating. Of course, it had already aged for years by that time, so its months of travels with us newlyweds did nothing but enhance the flavor. I actually felt a little pang parting with it. The cheese guy was impressed, and actually asked for a hunk as payment. Afterward, I bagged it up, gave some away and froze the rest, which we enjoyed for more than a year. It was a truly fantastic present. (more…)
After buying approximately 100 holiday gifts for friends and loved ones, just about the last thing I want to do these days is shop.
However, this is the absolute best time to restock my “present closet.” I learned the concept as a kid at my grandmother’s house. The closet on her stair landing served as a magical storeroom perpetually chockablock with goodies. Swing the door open any day of the year and you’d find china and glassware; pretty linens; charming packages of notepaper and journals; and of course, gourmet sweets—all beautifully wrapped and ready to go. All bought on sale. Yes, my grandmother was a shopper with a great eye for a deal. But what she really loved was giving. She never went anywhere without a present…and nobody who came to her home ever left empty handed.
And so, in that spirit, I’ve been journeying out to fill my own shelves. With a little effort and shoe leather, I’ve found some fantastic deals. I picked up some brand-name gloves and board games that I’m putting away for my kids til next Christmas. I also landed some earrings , scarves and headbands—all for literal pennies—to package up with the gift cards my daughter likes to give to her friends at birthdays.
I have to say, I get a special thrill out of finding the gift and decorative items that the stores are practically giving away post-holidays. I got some adorable bottle stoppers for 75 percent off last week. I squirreled a stack of them away ($2 each) to wrap up with the wine I’ll bring to my hosts at parties next December. My other favorite score was a red wood lacquer tray—marked down to nearly nothing because of the color (did they forget that Valentine’s Day is coming?). I grabbed four of those. (more…)
I loved my fourth grade teacher. It was 1976, and Ms. Andrews was the coolest thing in my world.
Until then, my teachers had all been kindly schoolmarm types. Not Ms. Andrews. She was young, with long black hair, giant hoop earrings, and plenty of eyeliner. She wore fabulous clothes—elephant leg pants and jumpsuits in bold, primary colors. Her appearance alone commanded our attention. And she was fun; if we were good, she’d move our desks aside and give us Hustle lessons.
But Ms. Andrews was more than just a pretty face. By fourth grade, I had moved through five elementary schools. I was the perpetual new kid, always uncomfortable, and unsure how to fit in. Ms. Andrews guided me through that challenging year; she helped me sort out the complexities of making friends, and encouraged my love of reading and writing. She steadfastly refused to accept anything less than my best work, and even let me drop off missed assignments at her house. So even though I can no longer recall the name of that school (we moved again at that summer), I will forever remember Ms. Andrews.
Over the years, my kids have been blessed with a handful of these memorable teachers. While they’ve never been the new kids, they’ve had their challenges, even in our beloved neighborhood school. My oldest is a bit quirky, and it takes a special individual to understand and inspire him. The teachers who do are dear to my heart, and I’m thrilled when one of my younger children lands in their care. Last year, we said goodbye to our beloved first grade teacher as our youngest moved through her class. There were tears all around. (more…)
Looking for a quick and simple holiday gift? Giving a homemade treat or a gift basket filled with the ingredients to make a scrumptious nosh will win hearts and be gentle on your checkbook. Read on for a terrific Cranberry Popcorn Ball recipe. Or try this Spicy Italian Popcorn. You can even fill a festive tin with the ingredients and hand-written recipe card. Your recipient will love the gesture, love the flavor, and love having a guilt-free snack during this busy time of year.
One of the things I love best about my friends and neighbors is what gracious hosts they are. All year, my family and I are welcomed at picnics, barbeques, bonfires, dinners—and, of course, a dizzying round of fabulous holiday parties.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be celebrating at casual cocktails, a family tree-trimming soiree, two open houses and a sit-down dinner. And that’s all before the New Year’s Eve festivities.
As you can imagine, my annual roster of hostess gifts has come to look a lot like Santa’s “Nice List.” Unfortunately, I don’t have a team of elves at my disposal. I had to whip up some fantastic gifts that say “thank you for your hospitality” without blowing my holiday budget. More than that, I wanted to bring my hosts something unique and personal that also added to the party. (more…)