Mother’s Day gifts? It’s complicated.

Riverhead Local | Laurie Nigro

May 11, 2013
Read this article on the publishing site

What do you get a 'pain the arse' for Mother's Day, anyway? Our frugal naturalist admits she's not easy to please. Some free or low-cost ideas for making this Mother's Day special.

I don't like cut flowers. I'm not sure who came up with the idea of killing a beautiful, vibrant plant and presenting this bundle of death as a gift, but I find the whole idea a bit repulsive. When they are in my house, I become a little more depressed each day, watching these dead posies evolve into rotted and decayed flora. The only good part is when I put them in the compost bin so their death will not be in vain.

I also tend to be picky about chocolate. Was it grown organically? Were the workers treated well and payed a living wage? Was the final product fairly traded, allowing the producer to make a living?

Chocolate is primarily grown in Africa and South America. According to the Food Empowerment Project, Ghana and the Ivory Coast supply 75 percent of the world’s cocoa market. The project also says that "a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on West African cocoa farms."

Obviously, it's difficult for me to enjoy my truffle when I know there's a chance that a child was sold in order to harvest the cocoa beans that made my treat.

Jewelry isn't much better. According to the No Dirty Gold campaign, "The production of one gold ring generates 20 tons of wastes. Gold mining is without doubt one of the world's dirtiest industries: it uses cyanide, generates heaps of wastes, and leaves a long-lasting scar on landscapes and communities." And "80 percent of all gold is used to make jewelry."

Unless the metal has been recycled or the jewelry is an estate piece, I have made it clear to my husband that it is not a gift option. Plus, I rarely change my jewelry. I have been wearing the same earrings for over 10 years, the same rings for nearly 15, and the same necklace for more then five years. Occasionally, I do switch to something I acquired before I learned about the massive environmental and social impact of strip mining. But for the most part, it's the same thing, day in and day out.

I have been told that my feelings on these issues make it somewhat difficult to buy me a gift. I started to object, insisting that I like all sorts of things. Yet, I found that, though I think of myself as rather practical, in reality, I am a pain in the arse. It turns out that I am quite particular. If I do want something, I usually research it to death (where does it come from? How reliable is it? How much does it cost? Do I really need this item?) and if I deem it worthy (and can find it cheap enough), I buy it myself.

With Mother's Day upon us, I decided to help out those who are lucky enough to have a practical woman (or man) in their lives. I came up with some gift giving suggestions. I hope this helps you to enjoy the giving occasions you encounter each year.

My favorite gift of all, bar none, is a handwritten letter. A heartfelt note not only allows one the opportunity to say things that don't often come up in everyday conversation, but is a gift that can be treasured for years to come. This option horrifies my husband. He does not enjoy writing, especially since I have deemed that things like "Happy Mother's Day, you're the best," or "Hope you have a happy birthday," don't count as letters. If it comes pre-printed, it is disqualified. But trust me, most people will love receiving a gift that requires little money and lots of thought.

If the idea of penning a love letter makes you break out in a cold sweat, you can always resort to manual labor. Clean the house. Do some laundry. Shop for, prepare and cook a meal, and then clean up after said meal. Do all the dishes, INCLUDING pots and pans (I'm not sure why these seem invisible to some). Change the sheets and then make the bed, correctly, no matter how many pillows there may be, daring you to forget their proper placement.

Knock a few items off the honey-do list. Have you been putting off fixing the squeaky door? How about cleaning out the basement? Did you forget about those weeds that need pulling? I assure you that these efforts will be greatly appreciated.

OK, so I'm starting to see the problem. It's not that I'm difficult to select a gift for, there are so many things that will bring me joy. The truth is that nothing I want is easy. I require a little effort. Anyone can buy a gift, not everyone is willing to do the work.

I concede that sometimes you do just need to get a gift quickly. I suspect that's why, according to the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day is the most popular day of the year to eat in a restaurant.

How about avoiding the flower massacre and instead giving a live plant? Most potted plants are beautiful and will have the added bonus of not being dead! If you choose a perennial, the recipient will enjoy your thoughtfulness for many years to come. If you choose an edible, you will be providing a multi-faceted gift that will bring you to mind each time the person enjoys the fruit of the plant. Even a non-gardener can (usually) keep a small basil plant alive in a kitchen window.

And when mom has more basil then she knows what to do with, you can go over and make her a nice pesto. Just be sure to clean up afterwards.

Lidia Bastianich, one of my favorite PBS chefs, has this great recipe using walnuts instead of the traditional pine nut .


1½ cups fresh basil
1 cup Italian parsley
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups walnut pieces, toasted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup Pecorino Romano, grated

To make the pesto, heap the basil, parsley, garlic, walnuts, and salt into a food processor. Pulse several times, to chop everything together coarsely, then, with the machine running, pour in the 1/2 cup olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Stop and scrape down the sides of the work bowl, and process to a uniformly fine bright-green pesto. Put all the pesto into a large, deep bowl, big enough to toss all the pasta in.

Meanwhile, start cooking the pasta. Shortly before it is done, ladle 1/2 cup or so of the boiling pasta water into the bowl, and stir to warm and loosen the pesto-use only as much water as needed to bring the pesto to tossing consistency. When the pasta is perfectly al dente, lift it from the pot with tongs and a spider, (a wide shallow wire-mesh basket with a long handle) drain for an instant, then drop it into the bowl. Toss pasta and sauce together thoroughly. Sprinkle a cup or so of grated cheese over it, then toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls, with more cheese at the table.

Tagged with: jewelry, gold

On Facebook