Cure the Homesick Blues!

Good news:  your best friend landed a fab new job. 
Bad news: it's out of state.

What to give your friend as an excellent bon voyage gift?  Keep in mind they'll be missing the comforts of their send them off with a cookbook featuring local cuisine.  When they pine for home, it is simply a recipe away! 

For far flung Texans missing chiliquiles or BBQ brisket, I recommend this delicious cookbook called The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain.  My friend Susan L recently moved to New York City, and, though she will enjoy the restaurants there, I know she'll be cooking a few nostalgic Tex Mex meals from this cookbook.

Spice It Up:  Your ex-pat friends will feel closer to home with a monthly subscription to a homegrown magazine which allows them to catch up on local happenings. 

Texas Highways is a gem of a magazine whether you're from Texas or not.  Texas Highways details the local towns/hotspots/festivals/daytrips around the state bringing you a new appreciation for the allure of the Lone Star state.

Top it off with a foodie item from your area.  For Texans, remind them to Keep Austin Weird with a gift from Jo's Coffee
Jo's is the quintessential funky coffee hut with its flagship on south Congress across from the legendary Continental Club.  No visit to Austin is complete without a stop for breakfast tacos & Jo's!

Where to Buy:
Cookbook - The Homesick Texan is available at most bookstores including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.  $23.87

Magazine - Subscriptions are available online at Texas Highways.  Buy a single copy at your local bookstore to present as your gift with a note detailing the subscription information. 12 issues (1 year) $19.95

Jo's Coffee Gift Set - The Hotel San Jose has a cool gift shop online that is part of the Bunkhouse Group that includes the Jo's Coffee Gift Set.  Gift includes Jo's Tshirt, Jo's Coffee and mug with a picture of a Grackle (the scourge of Austin birds) $45.00

+ These gifts are easily tailored for different states/locales.  For example, for the Rajun Cajuns from Louisiana. try a John Folse' cookbook, Louisiana Life Magazine, and coffee & beignets from Café Du Monde.

+ Lisa Fain maintains a terrific blog of recipes that inspired her cookbook.  Check it out at

Away In A Manger

Christmas is a magical time of year trimmed with festive decorations.  My favorite adornment this year is this wintery blue felt Nativity scene from Wisteria

While traditional crèche are more serious in nature, I love the levity of this scene with the sheep's smiling faces and textured coats.

The three Magi are a nice touch with their fluffy beards reminiscent of Santa Claus!  Your children and grandchildren will adore these for years to come.

Inclined towards a less religious decoration?  Check out these cute Reindeer Carolers!  In bold red garb, the reindeers are a perfect centerpiece for your holiday table.

Spice It Up:  For years, my mother has collected one Christmas book each season.  Her collection is now impressive, and we all love to thumb through the various books during the holidays.  Start a collection for your gift recipient by pairing a special book with either the Nativity scene or the Reindeer Carolers.
For the Nativity scene, I recommend The Animals Christmas Eve (Little Golden Book) by Paula Wiseman or The Animals Christmas Carol by Helen Ward.  For the Reindeer Carolers, try Reindeer Christmas by Mark Kimball Moulton.

Where to Buy: 
Felt Decorations - Available at Wisteria either through their catalog, website or in-store (Dallas). 
    Nativity Scene $59.00, Three Magi $39.00  , Reindeer Carolers $59.00

A few comments about Wisteria:
+ The photos do not do justice for how well made and darling their products are!

+ Don't be put off by the prices as they always have promos and huge discounts available, and their staff is very generous in helping you apply all deals possible.

+ If you are in Dallas, their warehouse store is across the street from Love Field Airport.  They have their full price products, and in the back they have a Sale section well worth exploring.

+ They will gift wrap with the loveliest ribbon!

Books - All can be found at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, though I try to buy in-store through Barnes & Noble to help support their "brick & mortar" stores.  Prices range from $3.99-$50.00

See Jane Run. Run, Jane, Run!

Give the gift of good health for the new year.

Whether you are a hardcore fitness lover or an office worker chained to a desk, the Jawbone UP fitness band is a remarkable gift.  The Jawbone UP tracks your fitness, sleep and eating habits to help you monitor and improve your overall health.

There are several alternative devices on the market (Nike Fuel, Fitbit, etc,), but I purchased a Jawbone UP for myself for the amazing features.  From the choice of multicolor bands, to the bendability of the wristband which helps it stay on (no clipping to our waist band), to the soft silicone which makes it comfortable to sleep with, to the high tech data tracking through the free Iphone App, the Jawbone UP has it all!

To give you a sense of all that it can do, the UP:
+ tracks your deep sleep and light sleep
+ slowly wakes you so you are not startled out of deep REM sleep
+ tracks your steps each day insuring you meet your set goal of at least 10,000 steps
+ allows you to compete with others or join groups to cheer each other on
+ reminds you when you have been sedentary too long (perfect for the office worker who forgets they have been on the computer for more than an hour at a clip without moving)
+ provides cool App graphics to display whether you have met your daily goals, how you fared for the week/month/etc.
+ allows you to track your food intake
+ stays charged up to 10 days

This has been a transformational gadget for me, and it startled me to see I was not taking as many steps per day as I assumed.  The UP reminds you to pick up the pace!

Spice It Up:  Package this gift with these funky, high performance toe socks from Injinji.  Dedicated runners swear by these socks for their quick drying fabric and blister prevention.  Any armchair athlete will be motivated to get up and go with these hip socks!

Top it off with a goal in mind!  Sign up with your gift recipient for a 5K, a Triathalon or a Tough Mudder, and motivate them to get ready for race day with these customized Cowbells.  Whether walking, running, or biking, their cheering section will be ready with these noisy and charming bells.

Where to Buy:
Jawbone UP - These wristbands can be purchased online directly from Jawbone or Amazon.  In store, they are available at the Apple Store, and Best Buy. The App is free to download.  Wristband is approximately $120.00 depending on store/site

Injinji Socks - The solid color toe socks are available directly online from Injinji, but I found the striped style on Amazon. $12.29-$14.99 per pair

Cowbell - GoneForARun is a terrific website for runner gifts, athletic apparel and gadgets.  They have various cowbells with sayings, or the personalized bell with a custom name. $6.99-$8.99 per bell

Squirrely Nuts

What to get your boss or client that is a nice remembrance and fits well on their desk?  Vagabond House's squirrel nut bowl with acorn scoop is a handsome piece that is well crafted, and has a touch of whimsy with the pewter squirrel perched on the side of the bowl.

The wood bowl fits easily on a desk or coffee table, and the acorn scoop is especially nice for keeping germy hands at bay.
Spice It Up:  Squirrel Brand nuts are deluxe Southern style nuts with the most amazing flavors.  From Crème Brulee Almonds to Crème Caramel Pecans to Fleur de Sel Pistachios, these gourmet nuts are a generous addition to your gift.  Your recipient will be able to pour them right in the bowl and enjoy!
In addition to being a lovely corporate gift, this is a great gift for all the men in your life, any host/hostesses, your parents, yourself etc.   I liked it so much I bought one for myself and it's sitting in my den!

Where to Buy: 
Squirrel Nut Bowl & Scoop - is made by Vagabond House and can be ordered direct from them or found at multiple stores/sites including Neiman Marcus, Frontgate and Amazon.  $79.00 - $85.00 per bowl & scoop
Squirrel Brand Nuts – produced by a Plano, TX (Dallas suburb) company called Squirrel Brands/Southern Nuts, they can be purchased directly online, or found at many specialty stores.  $19.99-$27.99 depending on size (18 -36 oz) and flavor/nut
Tip:  Sam’s Club carries (in-store only) the Crème Brulee and other flavors regularly—a nice way to bring the price down on the nuts and saves you the shipping cost. $10.48 for small box 28 oz.


Countdown to Christmas

Are you stressed yet?  We are 6 weeks away from Christmas.  It’s time to start prepping for the holiday!

ü  Holiday Checklists – Avoid sticky notes which tend to get lost and get organized by downloading these well thought out Christmas planners from Organized Home Christmas.  These 6 week organizing plans provide checklists that are particularly useful as you can size and print them to fit your Day planner.  Best of all, the planners are FREE!

ü  Holiday Treats Test Run - Once you decide what treats you plan to make as gifts for friends/hosts/etc. be sure to do a practice run before Thanksgiving.  
A few years ago, I planned on making a candy bark recipe from a famous Food Network chef.  Though the bark looked pretty, the end result was not very tasty.  Seriously frazzled at the last minute, I threw out the bad batch and switched to another recipe.  Avoid my mistake by making a practice batch this weekend.  Then, you will know if your holiday recipe is successful and you will have ample time to adjust.

ü  Personalized Gift Boxes & Tags
   Chefs Medallions – Order these beautiful stickers from Felix Doolittle to place on the tin or wrapping of your homemade goods.  My friend Angela N. tipped me off to these darling medallions.  Felix Doolittle is a online stationer with lovely paper products including gifts, stationery, calling cards, and return address labels.  You may even find them at your local stationery store, though it is quicker to order online.  $25.00 per 20 labels

   Personal EmbosserWilliam Sonoma carries a custom designed Embosser.  Engraved with your name, this allows you to use it year round as gift tags for homemade goodies.  I have one, and I use it regularly.  $39.95 per embosser

   Gift Tags & Labels – If you are short on time to order custom tags or you run out of the current batch, head to Staples to grab extra tags from the Martha Stewart Staples Collection.  Martha Stewart partnered with Avery Labels to help you create your quick labels, tags, or handwritten chalkboard labels. Prices range from $3.99-$14.99 depending on selection/quantity/size

   Pastry Boxes – These monogrammed French pastry boxes are exceptional in detail.  With swirls and monograms, the boxes will protect the baked goods while making a beautiful gift presentation. offers both regular boxes, and ones with cupcake dividers and candy trays. is the original supplier to the Williams Sonoma site, so going direct will be a bit more affordable!  Prices range from $23.00 for 10-14 boxes depending on size
ü  Gift Wrap - Most any holiday wrap will work whether you favor styles from Container Store, Target, Walmart, Michaels, Joann’s, etc. Alternate fun and affordable gift wrap sellers are at your local Holiday Crafts Fairs and specialty stores. 

In Dallas, the Chi-O Christmas Market always offers up a great selection of holiday wrap, ribbons and boxes.  I have been known to make an extra stop at PollyDuPont in Richardson because they have custom wrap in house (items purchased in-store only). 
I like to give each person in my family at least one beautifully wrapped gift at Christmas.  Sadly, I am not a skilled bow maker and Neiman Marcus gave up its beautiful holiday wrap years ago.  St.Michaels Exchange has a selection of 12 or so elegant and whimsical wraps.  They will wrap items purchased in-store or you can bring something you bought elsewhere.  In addition, SME will ship to any desired location. Be sure to drop your gifts for wrapping soon as the queue backs up approaching Christmas.

ü  Holiday Cards – Try to order your photo cards now—it will be significantly cheaper if you don’t have to place a rush on them closer to Christmas.  Select a pretty family photo, or a few fun ones from the past year.  My favorite sites for Holiday Cards are TinyPrints, Minted, and Shutterfly, and Peartree Greetings.  Be sure to look for discount codes as most all sites have promo rates during the holidays.

Ginger, Spice and Everything Nice

Too busy to bake homemade cookies or treats for the holidays?  This is one of my favorite quick gifts for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas:  Nyakers Ginger Snaps from World Market.

As soon as you open the tin, the wonderful smell of ginger wafts out enticing you to munch!  These thin cookies are delicious and crispy like Moravian cookies, and are the perfect holiday flavor of ginger.  Nyakers' tins are oversized (almost double the size of a standard cookie tin), and generously include 180 cookies per tin!  No scrimping with this gift!

Spice It Up:  Add a Pumpkin Dip in a holiday bowl or ramekin to complement the cookies.  This is the perfect treat to set out when company drops by unexpectedly throughout the holidays, to snack on while watching the big game on tv, or to enjoy a simple dessert after a heavy meal. 

Consider these festive bowls I found at Tom Thumb grocery:  one a pumpkin bowl/Thanksgiving theme and the other a snowflake/Christmas theme.

Though the pumpkin dip recipe (see recipe at bottom of page) takes less than 5 minutes, an alternate idea if you are short on time is to pair the cookies with a package of Hot Chocolate or Hot Cider. 

Ultimately, kids will love the cookies for a snack and the dip is positively addictive.  As for adults, don't even start me on how divine it is with spiked egg nog or milk punch!

Where to Buy:
Nyakers Cookies - available at World Market year round.  The tins change patterns/colors depending on the season.  The cookies stay remarkably fresh once opened.  $12.99 per tin of 180 cookies.

Ramekins from Michaels
Bowls/Ramekins - available at most stores including Container Store, Crate & Barrel, Target, Joanns, Michaels, Dollar Store, Tom Thumb Grocery, etc.  I recommend buying at your local grocer or with a coupon at Michaels/Joanns--it's not worth splurging when there are plenty of inexpensive ones that are as pretty as the fancy stores' bowls.  It will also help keep the overall price of your gift down. $0.99-$4.99 per bowl/ramekin

Creamy Pumpkin Dip Recipe
  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese softened
  • 2 cups (16 oz.) confectioners sugar
  • 1 (15 oz.) can solid pack pumpkin
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 capful of orange extract
In medium bowl, blend cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  Gradually add pumpkin incorporating each small portion.  Lightly blend in spices and extract.  Chill and serve.
Yield:  4 cups

Family Tradition

Thanksgiving is a time for gathering with family.  Each year, my mother prepares our Thanksgiving meal from cherished family recipes.  Though I’d love to relieve her of the duty, she is an amazing cook and there would be a mutiny if she didn’t make our beloved dishes!
Whoever hosts the turkey dinner in your family, here is a meaningful gift to bring to your host or cook as a thank you for their arduous work preparing the house and the meal for the family gathering:  a recipe carving board from 3D Carving. 
Grab your great-grandmother’s turkey dressing recipe, or Great Aunt Millie's special green bean casserole recipe and make the tradition permanent on the etched carving board.
I love this idea, because it warms the heart to see a loved ones’ handwriting--you can almost picture them there with you.  The carving board commemorates a time honored recipe to pass down through the family.
This gift works well for holidays, newlyweds, grandparents, parents, in-laws, friends, BBQ kings, etc. Alternate ideas are to scan children's artwork, or a love note, etc.
Spice It Up:  Whether you are a turkey or a ham fan, Ham I Am has the best you have ever tasted.  I have been buying from them directly for going on 20 years, and they have the highest quality meats.  My favorites are the Lemon Pepper Turkey and  the Pepper Ham—to die for! 

Neiman Marcus is one of Ham I Am’s loyal clients.  Ham I Am products are featured each year in their holiday food catalogs.  This high end retailer is known for exceptional quality, so you know if Ham I Am meets their discerning taste it is a remarkable product.
Even if you don’t plan to eat it right away, it is a wonderful gift to have in the house around the holidays as you can eke out several dinners and sandwiches from the ham.  In addition, Ham I Am makes a terrific corporate gift for clients.  Easy to ship, and everyone loves a generous tasty food gift. 
Where to buy:  Order the carving board now so that you can receive it in time for the holidays.  You will need to scan in your document.  If you do not have a scanner, any FedexKinkos/Office Depot/Staples can scan it for you.  3D Carving on Etsy features several styles which vary by size (8.5x11 to 9.5x13) and price $30.00-$78.00.
Ham I Am website features several options of Turkey, Ham, Bacon and their famous Hogwash.  Prices range from $39.95 - $54.95 depending on product/size/sliced or whole.