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  • Valerie Just

A Few of My Favorite Things...

“There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

You have all heard about Oprah's Favorite Things list...and you certainly remember Julie Andrews, and her famous song, My Favorite Things, well this is my/our favorite things list.

I had intentions on doing this list in December, for holiday gift-giving ideas, but alas, time slipped away and I never got it done. Today is a rainy day, so what better time to think about my favorite things!

The goal is to have you get engaged - send me YOUR favorite things to add to the list. We all need good, unique ideas for gift-giving, or just want ideas to make our lives a tad bit more efficient or joyful. And it's so much better to get a recommendation from a friend, than to take your chances with Amazon reviews. We can learn from each other, and ensure our purchases are valuable. And, this is where we are going to log those ideas! I will be stalking my friends and families for submissions, so beware!

For those of you that know me well, know that I dislike cooking; the irony will be to see just how many of my favorite things are cooking utensils or recipe 'additives'. I love tools, and that includes cooking tools. John had to go through our kitchen drawers and remove some of my 'tools' because the drawers were overflowing, and now some of my favorite things are in a bag in the basement. He heard about it for awhile, but I will admit it is a little bit easier to find something now. And, let me be clear, I will cook and I can cook, as I just made chicken noodle soup (and no, it wasn't Campbell's!) and quinoa over the last couple of days, but I can't say that I enjoyed the exercise. And, I make my grand children and children their favorite food, so I do make exceptions, and that is when I use my favorite kitchen tools!

Now, use your shopping skills to get the best price - I've given you a link to the product, but search the Internet to ensure you get a good price. By the way, if you haven't joined Honey, then I recommend that you take a peek. I have saved quite a bit of money, as I order off the Internet a lot, and when you are at checkout, if Honey is affiliated with the vendor, the application searches for the best deals for the product, and then applies the discount to your cart. Here is a little more information:

Honey is a free browser extension that unlocks the internet's best deals. One click and Honey automatically finds, tests, and applies the best coupon code at checkout on 30,000+ popular sites.Honey even finds better prices on Amazon.

There is a mini-spoon too! I like it because the dip in the handle keeps the contents off the counter.

I like this tool better than the garlic press. This is not hard to clean up, and I use a silicone pastry brush to get the garlic out between the teeth. I gave one to a friend during the holidays, and she bought one for each one of her kids.

This is dedicated to all my girl friends out there! Not that men can't save the world, but...just saying...

This is a magnet, but there are other products available, such as notepads.

Most of my friends would agree that a girl just can't have too many shoes. I feel much better about my shoe addiction after watching Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City - I have never paid $500 for a pair of shoes like Carrie Bradshaw did.

But, when I was in college, I did go without eating for a month so that I could own a pair of Frye stovepipe boots - and I paid close to $100 for those boots. In 1975, $100 was a lot of money for anything, let alone a pair of boots, but my roommate had a pair, and I just knew those boots would make a difference in my social life, and make me the envy of every girl on campus:) Well, maybe I didn't forego eating, but I did forego a trip to Arkansas on spring break with friends so I could pay for those boots. I stayed at home, working at the college seed-lab so I could pay my Mom back.

I still have those boots, as they symbolize my youth and the sacrifices I made for a pair of shoes. Unfortunately, those boots don't fit, as I had a size 7 foot back then - pregnancy is not kind to women's feet, and I believe every woman I know would agree.

I love this coaster and notepad; they make me giggle.

I really like these pens - I'm very particular with the type of pen I use, and these meet my needs. I blatantly, and with no regrets, will pocket a really good pen, from friends, family and strangers alike. Karma is a bi!@h, as these pens disappear when I am not monitoring them.

This smells sooooooo good - I believe you will love it!

For gardeners or landscapers out there, these are great. Don't buy the anvil-type, as this type will destroy the plant material. I took a tree pruning class from the city of Des Moines, and the urban forester recommended this brand.

John got this as a gift at Christmas from one of his salesmen at work. They are so good - really crunchy. I've had to stop buying them because of the calories, but they are good for entertaining, etc.

These vinegars are awesome. My current favorite is CARA-CARA ORANGE VANILLA BALSAMIC. Mix them with a really nice virgin oil that you can also get at Allspice - I use them on salads and quinoa, but I know there are tons of uses. Not being a good cook, I can't help you out there;o) Allspice provides vinegar and oil pairing suggestions.

Love this pitcher for my teas - I needed something when I put my Pepsi in the rear-view mirror. I have a couple of them, and like them. They are narrower than a lot of pitchers, and fit in smaller spaces in the refrigerator.

If you need gardening gloves, I love these. They've held up really well so far, and I use them a lot. AND, the best part, is they really do keep soil from getting under your fingernails - the only pair I've ever owned that does.

Love these turntables - I probably have 4 or 5 of them. Great for kitchen/bathroom cabinet organization - especially in those upper cabinets, where you can't reach the items in the back of the cupboard, like above the stove. You can just turn the table to get to items in the back. I also use them for all of our vitamins.

I needed something for sponges and scrub brushes, and this meets the need. I would prefer to not have it on my counter, but the simple truth is I need someplace to store my sponges and brushes. I was always moving them from one side of the sink to the other - and now I don't need to do that.

I have a lot of remotes, and now I can have

a calculator, pens, paper, nail file, etc., right next to my couch. I know, I know, not pretty to look at, but it is really functional.


15. This hales from Penzeys Spices, and if you have never visited/shopped at this store, you are missing out, especially if you do LIKE to cook. They have so many good options that we use a lot: ginger, toasted onion, garlic, etc. We use the Sunny Paris in omelets, egg bakes, and I always buy the largest container, as we go through the stuff really quickly. Take a peek at Ruth Ann's Muskego Ave Chicken/Fish Seasoning - we try to eat fish once a week in one manner or another, and this seasoning is very good, too. Penzeys also has recipes available for some of the spices. Just need to be aware and find them!

16. This one was submitted by my brother, who is my stand-in sister, and manages the role with dignity and finesse:) He wants to remind us that walking and hiking are essential, because being outdoors and interacting with nature brightens our day. Especially, in our current somewhat quarantine situations with COVID-19 - it can get a little challenging sitting at home all day. Take advantage of the great outdoors, and get healthy while you are doing it!

17. Also from my brother/stand-in sister. Don't forget to use sources such as Hula, Netflix and Amazon as a nightly escapes into a variety of experiences. Especially Amazon - I've had prime for several years, and just took advantage of my membership and watched the Sex and the City series (I don't know how I missed watching that two decades ago, but I did). I had forgotten all about the benefits of Prime! Netflix has a great documentary series called Rotten - highly recommend it.

18. Double-scoop cone flower by Monrovia. This flower is at the top of my list - it comes in several very vibrant colors. The first time I saw it was on the ISU campus when I was taking the Polk County Master Gardener classes, and I fell in love with the flower. I have it planted throughout my property so I can see it wherever I am gardening. It is a perennial, meaning it dies in the fall, but regenerates in the spring. I've had mine for at least 5 years, and haven't lost one during the winter yet. The link is to the cranberry color, but search the web for the other colors. I know you will love them!

19. Cherry Explosion Hydrangea. I found this plant when I went to a local nursery to buy a lilac tree for my new landscape this spring. I was enamored with it - the plant is stunning. I paid a lot for it at the nursery, but only bought one. Well, then I went to Menards, and found the same size plant for only $21 (11% rebate, too!). So, I bought two more. Recommend planting where it gets morning sun, but not the hot afternoon sun. The plants at Menards had sunburn on the leaves because of the all-day sun exposure. I will be planting mine on the east side of my house. I can't tell you anything on the longevity of the plant, as it is new for me this year - but already one of my favorite things! It makes me happy just looking at it.


20. Valley Popcorn.

You can get this at HyVee in Des Moines. It is really good, and only 35 calories/cup; about 4 cups is 130 calories and 7 grams of fat. I love popcorn - it's been a staple in my diet since I was in college. I didn't cook back then either, and I don't remember how I used to prepare it, because I don't think air poppers were around until 1978, so I must have had to figure out how to operate the stove at some point. Anyway, give it a try - I think you will like it!

Love this - makes food prep so much faster!


One of my favorite restaurants in the East Village was Tacopocalypse - I loved the Korean Tacos. They closed a couple of years ago, and this recipe doesn't quite fulfill those yummy tacos, but it comes close.

I don't eat out in today's current environment, and I feel guilty not supporting my favorite restaurants, but I also don't want to spend my personal time concerned that I have exposed myself to the coronavirus. I rediscovered this recipe - I've had it for a number of years, but had forgotten about it. We have made it a couple of times in the last several weeks, and it is very good. It appears to have many steps, but it really doesn't take much time to prepare - but then, I only prepare the Cilantro Lime Crema, so take that into consideration.

Writing is therapeutic for me, and this article is no different. I have discovered that I spend a lot of time investing in cooking tools, discovering new ways to add to the flavor of our food and finding good recipes than I ever realized. I still don't like to spend my time in the kitchen, but apparently I do like to eat good, healthy food, and ensure that we are efficiently preparing good food! And I think it is essential to try and find the means or the mechanism, if there is a task that you ultimately must do, but don't like doing, to make that task more tolerable.

Someone is always having a Pampered Chef party, and when you go to the party, you feel obligated to buy something. The purchase of this tool was one of those situations, but ultimately, I am so glad that I did.

I use this slicer for vegetable prep for chicken noodle soup, and when we use my Grandma's bread and butter pickle recipe in August every year. My kids love the pickles she always made, so we always make several jars with the cucumbers from our garden. I like making the pickles, as it always takes me back to times when life was simpler, the pace was much slower, Grandma was still alive, holding me accountable to do the right thing, and actively making a difference in my life. Her strength in character, kindness, generosity and integrity helped shape the person that I aspire to be today, but I miss her. She loved me unconditionally, and you can never have too many of those kind of people in your life:)

Last year, we spent much time preparing jars of pickles, and then stored them in our refrigerator in the basement, anticipating giving a jar to each one of our boys. Before we could get to the gift-giving, I needed to make a shirt with my heat press, and I unplugged the refrigerator to use the outlet. Well, I must have been so enamored with the shirt, I forgot to plug the refrigerator back in. Yikes, I took a reaming from my husband for that inadvertent mistake! Lessons learned, don't make refrigerator pickles.

OK, I was yust yoking (a nod to my beloved Norwegian Minnesotan friends)...



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