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My mom and her cutest child (me!) #MyMarianos #CollectiveBias guy's guide for the perfect mother's day picnic

My mom and her cutest child (me!)

Finding the right gift for mom on any occasion can feel like an impossible mission for some guys (me included!). And when it comes to Mother’s Day, the pressure seems to grow exponentially.

How do you say a proper “thank you” to that person who changed your diapers, wiped your runny nose when you were sick and basically made sure that you and your siblings didn’t kill yourself or each other through the course of growing up?

A big bouquet of flowers or a huge box of chocolates? My mom would consider both extravagant. She’d eat one chocolate and share the rest, suggesting she has to watch her sugar and calorie intake.

Jewelry or a gift certificate for a massage? She usually only wears her wedding ring, and she’d much rather take a hot bath in her own tub than go to a stranger for a massage. Fancy perfume? Ivory soap is good enough for her.

On the surface, my mom might seem like a hard person to buy a present for. So what’s a son to do? The answer for me is NOT to buy a present, but rather to create the gift of an experience we can both enjoy.

I found my muse for the perfect Mother’s Day gift for my mom at Mariano’s on this #shop for #CollectiveBias. It hit me as I was exploring the delectable deli and bountiful bakery departments at the Jefferson Park #MyMarianos: a Mother’s Day picnic.

deli croissants #MyMarianos #CollectiveBias, guy's guide for the perfect mother's day picnic

When Mariano’s asked me to share a story about what inspires me about my mom, I didn’t know where to begin because my mom is inspiring in many ways. But the thing that is most amazing is that she’s always giving of herself and her time to others, to the point where she rarely takes time just for herself. She’d rather spend her money and time on her grandchildren or to help others in greater need.

To understand my mom, it helps to know where she came from. She was the 2nd youngest of 11 kids, and grew up right after the Depression. Money was always tight for her family, and some of the simplest things today were considered great luxuries back then.

One of her fondest memories growing up was when she and her mom (my grandmother) would eat ice cream right out of the carton. Back then, ice cream was a rare treat if you were poor. And they didn’t have the kind of refrigerator-freezers we have today, so storing ice cream was a challenge.

But my mom and grandmother had a solution for that: grab a spoon and eat it quick. When you’re one of 11 kids, you share everything so you just grab a spoon and dig in until it’s gone!

Pulling together a picnic doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, a successful picnic menu should be simple. All the food and drink need to be portable, easy-to-consume. Where most guys get it wrong is either by over-thinking it, or not giving it any thought at all. Success lies somewhere in the middle, so I wanted to share my tips for The Guy’s Guide for the Perfect Mother’s Day Picnic.

The Guy’s Guide for the Perfect Mother’s Day Picnic

Tip #1: Show that you’ve been listening (at least some of the time).

Growing up, mom cooked for you. Now it’s your turn to make the meal. That doesn’t mean you have to make everything from scratch. Pick a menu from all the great prepared foods you can find in the deli and bakery aisles, and be sure to include your mom’s favorite foods. Show her that you’ve been paying attention all these years!

My mom absolutely L-O-V-E-S fresh tomatoes and cold vanilla milkshakes. [Hold the whipped cream and cherry so there's room for more milkshake in the glass!]. For as long as I can remember, my mom has planted tomatoes and cantaloupe (and sometimes watermelon) in her garden. Some days, she’ll go out to her garden and pick a fresh tomato for her lunch or dinner. She cuts up the tomato and uses a little salt and pepper. Bam! She’s got a simple, yet satisfying, meal that she loves.

For this Mother’s Day picnic menu, I’ve selected a few special items from Mariano’s bakery, deli and fresh produce section that make up the majority of the menu. I am going to make one simple dish that combines two fresh foods my mom loves: tomatoes and cantaloupe. I call the dish Canta-Mato Salad. The recipe (below) is so simple that anybody who can hold a knife and drizzle olive oil can make it. It’s deliciously simple and making at least one dish demonstrates an honest effort to give of yourself.

canta mato salad #MyMarianos #CollectiveBias, guy's guide for the perfect mother's day picnic

Picnic Menu

  • All-white meat chicken salad on buttery croissants
  • Crunchy home-style potato chips
  • Tomato-cantaloupe salad with fresh mint
  • Vanilla milkshakes

You can find chicken salad in the deli and croissants in the bakery. And select your favorite chips (for crunch) from the snack aisle.

chicken salad on buttery croissant #MyMarianos #CollectiveBias, guy's guide for the perfect mother's day picnic

Then pick three ingredients from the fresh product department: a pint of cherry tomatoes, a cantaloupe and some fresh mint.

tomatoes cantaloupes mint #MyMarianos #CollectiveBias, guy's guide for the perfect mother's day picnic

That’s all I need for a perfect picnic lunch that my mom will love. [I'll pick up the vanilla milkshakes from the drive-through down the street from mom's house so they're good and cold.]

Tip #2: Don’t forget the flowers!

You might be saying, “hey, wait a minute! You said she really didn’t care about flowers!” That’s true. You don’t have to buy a huge flower bouquet, but a simple corsage that she can wear to church is something that would make her feel extra special. When people comment on her flowers, she gets to “brag” that her son gave it to her.

Tip #3: Sometimes, it’s okay to lie.

I don’t mean that it’s alright to tell your mom you’re in Hong Kong on business if you can’t be with her in person on Mother’s Day. Unless you are. Let me explain what I mean with an example of how I sometimes “lie” to my mom about the gift I’m giving her.

My mom is always thinking of others, and I know she really enjoys helping others in thoughtful ways. So I’ll sometimes get her two of something, like two differently colored corsages. Then I’ll say something like “I couldn’t decide which you’d like more” [the lie!] and suggest she give the one she doesn’t wear to a friend or someone at church who’d appreciate it. That could be an aunt, the minister’s wife or the church organist. It’s a chance for me to help my mom spread a little sunshine, because that gives her such joy to help others.

Tip #4: Your Mother’s Day celebration doesn’t have to be on Sunday only.

I’m one of six kids and everyone wants to spend time with Mom on Mother’s Day. Sometimes that’s not logistically possible.

Pick a time when you don’t have to rush around or deal with competing family schedules. In our family, one of my younger brothers always takes our mom out for a Mother’s Day lunch fundraiser at the local fire station. So I’ve chosen to treat mom to a Mother’s Day picnic on Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day. That way mom gets to celebrate a Mother’s Day weekend and I can give her the corsage in time for her to wear on Sunday to church.

Tip #5: The “perfect Mother’s Day” isn’t really about being perfect.

The perfect Mother’s Day is more about being present, being real and spending time with Mom in an authentic way that you both enjoy. Rather than putting your energy into buying a gift, show mom how much you appreciate her by spending time together and making the shared experience the gift.

For my mom, the only thing better than a Mother’s Day picnic with her cutest kid (me!) would be a Mother’s Day picnic with a side of bingo!

How are you planning to make your mom’s Mother’s Day perfect for her? Share your ideas in the comments section below. For other inspiring ideas to help make your mom’s Mother’s Day as perfect as it can be, follow Mariano’s on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. And check out the Mariano’s TasteMaker series featuring some of Chicago’s most innovative chefs.

Canta-Mato Salad

Rating: 51

12 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Canta-Mato Salad

Ingredients

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cantaloupe, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

Instructions

Gather your ingredients. Slice the cherry tomatoes. Cut the cantaloupe. Chop the mint.

Put the tomatoes and cantaloupe in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, Add chopped mint and gently toss.

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