Why Food Makes the Best Gift Baskets

Gift baskets are a fun and easy way to buy presents for everyone on your holiday shopping list. But why settle for a basket full of aftershave and bath salts that will sit on the bathroom counter unused? There’s one gift basket ingredient that is sure to please everyone. Here are a few reasons why food makes the best gift baskets.

Everyone Loves Food

Food is the universal language. There is hardly anyone anywhere, from any culture or background, with any interests or hobbies, that doesn’t love food. We all have people on our holiday shopping lists who are impossible to shop for. You know they love action movies, but you don’t know which ones they already own. You know they love skiing, but you don’t want to buy them a whole new set of skis, and what do you know about skiing anyway?

But buy them a selection of gourmet popcorn, fine chocolates, or artisanal cured meats, and you know they’ll love it. The great thing about food is that you can never have too much of it. Even if lightning strikes twice and someone else gets them the exact same basket, that just means it’ll take longer before their favorite treats run out.

People Love Gourmet Food, But They Often Won’t Buy It

It’s common folk wisdom that the best gift is something that a person will love but that they wouldn’t buy for themselves. Gourmet gift baskets are the perfect solution. Any chef or food aficionado will tell you that a good bottle of olive oil can enhance almost any meal. But few of us are willing to shell out top dollar for the good stuff. There are plenty of people who keep nothing but supermarket brand cheddar in their fridge, but would be more than happy to grate imported Parmigiano Reggiano onto their pasta if given the chance.

Truffle infused oil, organic jasmine pearl tea, Parisian grey salted caramel dipped in 80% cocoa dark chocolate. These are gifts that make people feel special but that they very rarely buy. Gift baskets are a great and affordable way to give your friends and family the fancy foods they love in one affordable and elegantly presented package.

Fine Food Means Special Occasions

Thanksgiving is all about gathering around and eating a succulent roast turkey. St. Valentine’s day is about sending delicately flavored chocolates to the person we fancy. The very concept of the modern holiday evolved from the traditional feast, those rare days during the year when everyone, royalty and peasant alike, stopped working and sat down for a special meal. When you ask most people what they like best about the holiday season, it is usually the food. There’s a reason people gain weight during the holidays. Celebrating and eating special foods go hand in hand. Gift baskets combine the food people love with beautiful presentations that can capture the true spirit of any special occasion.

Give Baskets Provide Selection

You know your cousin Merle loves coffee like she loves her children. The problem is you don’t know City Roast Jamaican Blue Mountain from Chock Full O’Nuts. Even if you were to buy her a pound of gourmet coffee, you don’t know her taste. Don’t fret! With a gift basket, you can give her a wide selection of high end coffees all with one gift.

Even if she is terribly particular, there is bound to be something in there that satisfies her. This makes food gift baskets perfect for people who are hard to shop for. Gift baskets are also perfect for those picky eaters in your life. Buy them a basket that contains many different items and they are sure to find something they love.

The Frightening Consequences of Overfishing

Not long ago fish and other sea life were considered endlessly renewable resources. Even when a supply of fish ran low, all the local fisherman needed to do was lay off the fishing of that species for awhile and they could be confident it would repopulate.

But increases in both word demand for seafood and the technologies used for fishing, as well as poor management in the fishing industry, are leading us towards a world where the populations of our oceans are no longer sustainable. Marine biologists say that if overfishing continues at its current rate, the world’s seafood supply will run dry by 2048. But lack of sushi grade tuna is not the only problem.

A Growing Concern

Three quarters of the world’s edible fish are harvested at a higher rate than they can replenish their populations. In the most popular varieties of large fish such as tuna, halibut, and cod the number is closer to nine out of ten. As fishing techniques have evolved in the last few decades fewer fishermen and fewer boats are needed to catch larger and larger numbers of fish. While this has kept costs low, its effect on fish populations is devastating.

Boats use machine-run lines with thousands of hooks that go to an ocean depth of 75 miles and hold tens of thousands of fish. Advances in vessels allow industrial fishermen to harvest in deeper waters and more dangerous shores which previously served as reserves for fish populations. What’s worse is that many techniques damage the environments and ecosystems by destroying corals, rock formations, and other features of ocean geography. As technology and demand continues to increase, these problems are likely to get worse.

The Consequences of Overfishing

Overfishing affects more than just the species of fish that are harvested. Oceans and lakes are delicate ecosystems. Disturbing one element disturbs them all. For example, sharks are among the most damaged species by overfishing. When the populations of predators like sharks are devastated, smaller fish are free of predation and can therefore explode. This causes them to consume more resources from their environment which depletes that environment’s ability to sustain other populations in turn. The entire system suffers.

Estimates say that 400 million people rely on fish as their primary protein source, mostly in Southeast Asia and Africa. As world population increases this number is likely to go up dramatically as livestock as a source of protein become increasingly expensive. Many experts look to wild seafood as a good source of food for future populations. It is a feasible solution to the ballooning world population, but it cannot work if overfishing continues at anything like its current rates.

Possible Solutions to Overfishing

The good news is that unlike so many other world problems, promising solutions to overfishing are well understood. Fish populations are astoundingly resilient, and the same forward march of technology that currently threatens marine environments and populations can also help to restore them. The bad news is that it’s one thing to understand a solution and something else entirely to prevent it.

One solution is to more fully embrace farming of fish. Over 40% of fish currently consumed across the globe is already farmed. However, large scale farming has its own downsides. Farmed fish are usually fed on smaller fish that are caught in the wild, which still threatens fish populations and ecosystems. Scientists are working on creating a vegetarian feed that supplies farmed fish with the Omega 3 fats required to keep them healthy and tasting right, but they aren’t quite there yet. Fish farms also create pollutants, and that problem would need to be addressed going forward.

A better solution might be to encourage more sustainable fishing practices. Areas with well managed fisheries and well-enforced conservation laws have shown huge increases in their local marine life populations and the health of their aquatic ecosystems. However, currently only 1 % of the world’s oceans are protected. Even in protected areas the laws are only as effective as the enforcement. Most of the improvement has been made in developed countries, and it is difficult to convince developing nations to focus on sustainable practices when they have starving people to feed.

The next few years are vital. Marine scientists say that we haven’t crossed the point of no return, and good practices can steer our oceans back towards recovery. One important step you can take is to make sure you buy only sustainably-source seafood. It seems small, but it helps to reduce demand for the kind of fish caught by the most dangerous fishing practices. As demand for that type of fish decreases, fewer and fewer fisheries will use those practices.

How Aquaponics Can Change Your Life

Aquaponics systems are a way to grow your own vegetables, fruit, and fresh fish all in a single system by making every part of the system work together. Set up an aquaponics system in your home and you are well on your way to complete food independence.

The Best of Both Worlds

Aquaculture and hydroponics each have their disadvantages, but aquaponics uses these disadvantages to make the whole system work together. When I used to grow vegetables hydroponically by themselves, I found the cost of the nutrients needed to feed the plants too high for what I got out of it. Aquaponics solves that problem in elegant way.

In standard aquaculture the water from your fish tank needs to be filtered as the waste products of the fish build up and make it toxic. That means throwing out some of the water each day, which then needs to be replaced. In aquaponics, this waste-water is treated with natural bacteria which converts the waste into nitrogen-rich nutrients and is then pumped into the hydroponic beds, where it feeds and waters the plants. This process serves to filter the water and balance it’s pH, so it can go directly back into the fish tank, clean and clear and ready to be used again. The fish feed the plants and the plants clean the fish-water, with no expensive fertilizer required. A harmonious arrangement if ever I’ve seen one.

A Sustainable Model

Aquaponics is a truly sustainable model, because it is entirely self-contained. The only thing you need to add is feed for the fish and a very small amount of water to replace any which evaporates or is soaked up by the plants themselves. Aquaponics only uses one tenth of the amount of water that would normally be needed to grow the same volume of vegetation, as in a traditional garden or farm much of the water seeps through the ground or evaporates due to heat and sunlight.

The whole systems is fully integrated in a way that is often found in the most well-balanced natural ecosystems but very rarely in human cultivation. It also uses no dangerous water treatment chemicals, herbicides, or pesticides. Aquaponically produced vegetables, fruits, and fish are fully organic and packed with nutrients, as well as being highly energy efficient.

Aquaponics Systems At Home

Aquaponics systems can be large, complex farm-sized installations, but they can also be simple and small enough to set up in your back yard. Once the system is put together it needs surprisingly little maintenance and upkeep; no more than growing your own garden or cultivating your own fish, but with far fewer resources. You never have to weed it or add fertilizer, and it can give even greater crop yields than regular hydroponics systems.

The Liberating Joy of Homemade Deodorant

Your deodorant is lying to you.

Don’t believe me? It’s true. Maybe it says it’s pH balanced just for your body. Maybe it says it provides maximum protection against odor when you exercise, or that it contain special pheromones that drive the ladies wild. What it doesn’t tell you is that it’s all exactly the same stuff. And that’s it over priced. And that almost all of it contains aluminum, which you really don’t want to rub into your skin.

Thankfully, homemade deodorant is here. You’ve probably never thought about making your own deodorant. But once you see how cheap, easy, and safe it is, you’ll never again shell out five bucks for a plastic tube full of chemicals you are just going to throw out anyway.

Homemade Deodorant Recipe

There are a lot of recipes for homemade deodorant that use all kinds of ingredients like beeswax and shea butter. This is the only one I’ve actually tried, and I don’t see any reason to try any of the others because this is so easy and works at least as well as any commercial deodorant I’ve ever used. But your mileage may vary, so just know that if for some reason this recipe doesn’t work for you, you shouldn’t give up on the whole idea.

Whether you use cornstarch or arrowroot has to do with how your body reacts. Cornstarch is much cheaper but it does cause itching in some people. I’d suggest you try cornstarch first unless you know you are sensitive to it, and then substitute in arrowroot if you have a reaction.


  • 1/4 cup aluminum-free baking soda
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • essential oils (optional ingredient, but worth it)

1: Mix the baking soda and the cornstarch/arrowroot together in a bowl.

2: Add the coconut oil, which should be at room temperature.

3: Mix everything together with a fork. It might look at first like the powders don’t want to mix with the oil, but keep going and they’ll come together.

4: Add the essential oil if you want a beautiful aroma. I like lavender because for some reason I think it smells sophisticated, but it’s up to you. Mix well.

5: Scoop it into a jar or, if you like, an empty, thoroughly washed deodorant container.

That’s it! When you want to use it spread a little on your fingers and rub it on. If it’s too warm out your deodorant won’t be quite as solid, so you might want to keep it in the fridge. It’s easy, it’s fast, it costs next to nothing, and once you try it you’ll never want to use the corporate version again.

Why You Need to Add Compost To Your Garden

It is difficult to overstate the importance of composting in organic gardening. Just as your body is at its healthiest when you eat whole, natural foods, your plants will be at their peak of health when you provide them with a steady supply of organic compost. Full of nutrients and beneficial microbes, able to repair damage to structurally unsound or pH unbalanced soil, highly effective in helping your plants fight off disease, organic compost is the best way to improve everything about the way your garden grows in one single stroke.

  • Improves Soil Structure and Balance

One of the most basic but easiest to overlook problems in gardening is poor soil structure. What we call soil is a mix of inorganic matter—such as clay, sand, and rocks—and organic matter such as decayed plants, invertebrates, and microorganisms. Tiny changes in the ratios of these substances can have large effects on your soil’s ability to grow.

Chances are, the soil in your garden contains either too much clay or too much sand. If soil has too much clay, water doesn’t drain sufficiently, leading to over watering. Clay-heavy soil is also dense, which cuts off the air supply and forces plants to develop shallow root systems which can’t reach nutrients and water lower down in the earth. If soil has too much sand, water drains too quickly and takes nutrients with it. Roots never have a chance to grab onto them.

Compost solves both of these problems, evening out the structure of dense or loose soil. In addition, the organic matter in compost absorbs water in a way neither clay nor sand can accomplish, which lets the water dissolve nutrients so root systems can access them.

Water is not the only factor in determining whether your plants can get the nutrients they need. If the pH of your soil is too high or too low, essential micronutrients such as iron, zinc, and phosphorous become unavailable. Compost works in a miraculous way to balance soil pH, by either absorbing or providing hydrogen ions that bring the soil back to the neutral state desired by most plants. This same effect provides a buffer for the soil so it is less likely to become too acidic or too alkaline in the future.

  • Adds Nutrients

Since compost is made of plants it is packed with the nutrients plants need to grow into healthy and delicious specimens. Compost contains the major plant nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, as well as important micronutrients that are often missing from commercial fertilizers. Commercial fertilizers also have another problem. Because the chemicals in them are so pure, they are often washed away by rain or watering before the plants can take them up. As much as 20% of their phosphorous and potassium and up to an astonishing 85% of their nitrogen is lost in this way. By contrast, compost holds those nutrients dissolved within itself until the plants need them.

  • Boost The Development of Beneficial Organisms

A single teaspoon of organic compost contains billions of microorganisms. These microbes provide numerous benefits to your soil. They are vital in converting inorganic nutrients into a form that your plants can use for food. They compete with potentially harmful microbes found naturally in the soil so that only the beneficial life forms survive. Studies have even shown that they “turn on” genes within the plants themselves that help to fight off disease.

Microbes aren’t the only organisms that love compost. Earthworms and other insects thrive on the organic matter in compost. These creatures not only help aerate the soil for better air circulation and better development of root systems, but they add compost by leaving organic matter of their own in the soil.

  • Benefits Beyond Your Garden

Composting can save you money on fertilizers and soil treatment, and in the form of delicious fruits and vegetables for you and your family. By the importance of composting can be felt beyond your garden. Waste that you compost is waste that doesn’t end up in landfills. This means less methane gas in the atmosphere, and less pollution in the air and the rain that will eventually fall back down on your garden. And fewer chemical fertilizers means fewer toxins leeching off into the water supply.

There are many more benefits of composting; enough to fill volumes on its own. When you compost you are playing a part in the earth’s natural cycle of growth and rebirth. You are taking waste and transforming it into the food and nutrition it was meant to be. And the effect on your garden will be enormous.

The Best Way to Water Your Garden

Watering your plants is one of those tasks that seems so simple everyone thinks they know how to do it. But the fact is that most casual gardeners water their plants incorrectly. Improper watering can waste water, leave plants prone to sickness, and make it difficult for root systems to get the water then need to thrive. The following are the best watering techniques to make sure your garden stays green and beautiful.

Before You Water

There are several factors you need to take into account before you turn on your sprinkler. The season and the weather have a strong influence on what water does to your plants. Early in the growing season the soil can be too cool for good seedling growth, so it’s best to avoid using cold water.

Later, as the weather warms up, you will want to water in the morning before the sun gets too hot. This lets the water soak into the soil before the heat can evaporate it. Watering in the cool morning also prevents water droplets on the leaves from boiling and scalding the plant. If the weather is hot and dry, it will take more water to keep the soil hydrated. Likewise cool and moist weather requires less water.

Soil type is also a factor. Soil that is rich in clay is dense and will trap any water you put onto it. This means you need less water, but also makes it easier to over water. Soil that has a lot of sand in it will let much more water trickle through, so you’ll need more to make sure the roots of your plants get enough to drink.

Careful monitoring of soil conditions before you water can save you heartache, and disappointing vegetables, down the line.

How Much to Water

Different types of plants require different amounts of water, so it’s best to tailor your watering to your plants’ needs. Fortunately, most of the vegetables and flowers that are likely to be in your garden have similar requirements, so some rules of thumb apply. These plants require about about one inch of water per week. The amount of water you need to give your plants will depend on the rainfall. If there is an inch of rain that week you won’t need to water your plants at all.

To tell if you’ve watered enough, check the soil. It should be damp, but not soaking, 5 or six inches down, to ensure the roots of your plants can reach the water. Since the roots will grow wherever they find water, deep watering ensures a deep and healthy root system.

To Spray or to Drip

The two most common methods of watering are to spray—with a hose, watering can, or sprinkler—or to use drip irrigation through a hose or pipes along the ground. Spraying gets water directly to the plants, so it is fast and you can control exactly where the water goes. Drip allows you to place your pipes under a layer of mulch, which reduces evaporation and the growth of mold on leaves. Both methods can achieve good results. Which you use depends on your preferences and needs.

How To Tell if You Are Watering Enough

Over and under-watering are easy to do, but they are also easy to identify by the signs your plants will give you.
The leaves of under-watered plants will start to dry out and turn yellow, and then brown, near the bottom of the plant. The roots of these plants will appear near the surface as the plant struggles to find water wherever it can. The soil will look dry and cracked. Under-watering is particularly bad for vegetables, as vegetable plants will give as much water as they can to their stems and roots and let extremities like leaves and vegetables die.

Over-watering prevents root systems from getting enough oxygen, and sodden leaves are far more susceptible to disease. One sign that you are over watering is mold or fungi growing on the soil near your plants’ roots. Also, sometimes both young and old leaves will fall off at the same time, and roots will become mushy and soft.

Add Mulch and Compost To Get the Most Out of Your Watering

Mulch and compost do a great deal to lesson all of the problems described above. A layer of organic mulch helps to keep your soil moist, as well as fight off weeds and some soil-born diseases. Organic compost added to the soil will increase it’s ability to retain both moisture and nutrients. Compost can also lessen the negative effects of both sandy and clay-heavy soil.

Watering your garden may be more complex than most casual gardeners believe, but that doesn’t mean it is difficult. Armed with the best watering techniques, you can confidently spray your garden knowing you are giving your plants their best chance to flourish.

5 Unforgettable New Jersey Wedding Halls

New Jersey may not be the first place you think of when you think of magnificent wedding halls, but the Garden State has more than its share of elegant mansions and sprawling outdoor vistas. The following New Jersey wedding venues rank among the most luxurious you will find anywhere, and each one is truly unforgettable.

1: Nanina’s In the Park, Belleville

Nanina’s in the Park is both a historical New Jersey landmark and an elegant place to hold your wedding. Nanina’s is located inside the beautiful Branch Point Park. In the spring, the cherry blossoms boom and the entire park is blanketed in vibrant pink life. It would be easy to walk the wooden bridge over the brook and among the flowers and believe you are in an enchanted fantasy land. The main hall itself is in the style of a Tuscan villa, full of marble and wrought-iron staircases and crystal decor that hangs from the ceiling like frozen waterfalls.

2: The Park Savoy, Florham Park

The Park Savoy is rich with breathtaking garden scenery and hidden delights. Every inch of the lovingly tended garden has its own beautiful sights, most especially the path leading down to the secret garden and it’s romantic reflecting pool. The hall itself is an elegantly restored mansion, full of antique decor and lit by candles and chandeliers and firelight. Windows that stretch to the ceiling give an excellent view of the ground throughout the fantastic dinner service full of innovative dishes you might expect to find in a cutting edge restaurant.

3: The Imperia, Somerset

The Imperia prides itself on being both sophisticated and fun, and it delivers on both counts. Upon entering through the front doors, you’ll notice the blend of classic and modern design, most captured by the double grand staircase spiraling to the ceiling. This leads one to several separate ballrooms with names like “The Majestica” and “The Regalia,” each with a distinct style, but all of them unforgettable. Both the hall and the staff are well known for being elegant and luxurious without being stuffy.

4: Shadowbrook, Shrewsbury

You could easily be fooled into thinking a British monarch had moved to New Jersey when you see the elegant Gregorian mansion that sits at the heart of Shadowbrook’s 20 sprawling acres. When lit up at night it looks like a palace. A tree-lined entryway winds its way into grounds that are covered end to end with lushly manicured gardens. Shadowbrook was a high-end fine dining restaurant before they moved into event-hosting, so they are justifiably famous for their food. The gigantic mansion has large rooms that can accommodate many guests as well as cozier rooms for more intimate affairs.

5: One Atlantic, Atlantic City

In case you think every one of the best New Jersey wedding venues is some kind of mansion, the One Atlantic is an elegant wedding hall right in the middle of Atlantic City. The ballroom features floor-to-ceiling windows, and extends 100 feet over the Atlantic for unparalleled views of the ocean, the city, and the boardwalk. The decor, style, and cuisine at the One Atlantic is highly versatile, and the staff is well known for their ability to create a couple’s exact dream of their wedding over the sea.

3 Reasons Small Businesses Should Avoid Social Media Marketing

Everyone knows that if you have a business you need to be on the social networks. The Internet is crammed full of articles about why you need to move onto Facebook right now or your business will instantly die. But too many small businesses make the mistake of jumping into the social media pool without carefully considering whether it’s really the right move. Here are a few reasons to avoid social media marketing that you should think about before you rush ahead.

1: It’s More Complicated Than It Looks

You know how to use Facebook and Twitter. You use them all the time, and they didn’t take you long to learn. That means you can set up and maintain the social media for your small business with no problem, right?

Not so fast.

Popular social media platforms have many more tools for businesses than they do for regular users. They’re built around it; that’s how they make their money. Those tools are always changing and being updated. You might take several months working up the perfect Facebook marketing strategy, only to find that some tiny change in the technology or the terms of use forces you to re-evaluate your entire approach.

Large businesses have the resources to devote full time personnel just to manage their social media. In fact, Social Media Director, by any other name, is one of the fastest growing positions in the business world. It’s a job that requires both time and a surprising amount of technical skill to handle all the ins and outs. If your business can’t spare or hire someone to work on social media full time, you might want to think twice before diving in.

2: Social Media Might Not Fit Your Culture

Running social media platforms for your business means constant contact with your customer base. And not just your customer base, but anyone on the Internet who finds your pages interesting. This sounds great, but is it really the best approach for your business? This opens you up to constant criticism and questions about the every aspect of your business. Every customer can voice their opinion whenever they want, and all of the other customers can see it.

One unsatisfied client with an ax to grind can air their grievances to everyone in a way that was nearly impossible before social media. If you’ve ever seen the effects on a business of a bad Yelp review, this is similar. Only it’s worse, because it is right on your platform where your customers spend their time.

It also allows your employees to represent you in a way that might not be desirable. There is a phenomenon known as the Online Disinhibition Effect, which means that people are willing to type things on a computer screen they would never say in person. Even if an employee doesn’t mean to be deliberately harmful, they might not present your brand in a desirable way once they are hiding behind their screen name. And remember, it isn’t always easy to keep ex-employees off of your media platforms.

3: There Are Better Ways To Market Your Business

Even if your social media efforts are successful and you attract tons of users, that doesn’t necessarily means you’ve generated more clients or customers. Social media is famous for false positives that don’t translate into sales. Your Facebook page might become popular simply as a discussion group for like-minded people, few of whom are directly interested in your product or service.

There are a number of demographics who barely use social media, and it’s important to find out if your base is one of them. If your customers are in an older age group, for example, your media efforts might not get returns. If you are marketing towards businesses or higher-end clients, social media often isn’t a direct way to reach them. If these seem like minor concerns, note that every minute you spend on maintaining your social network is a minute you can’t spend on other, more profitable forms of marketing.

Social media can be a wonderful marketing tool, but only if it is a good fit for your small business. There is so much hype about social media marketing these days that it can be difficult to step back and get some perspective. Make sure to keep these tips in mind when evaluating your decisions about whether to use social media as part of your marketing strategy.