How to Pick a Perfect Orange, or perhaps more accurately, Oranges, Paul Anka, My Daddy & Me

Dear Shoestringers, let's take a break from fashion & decor and focus on the "frugal foodie" within. Eating abundant fruits and veggies is Mother Nature's secret to looking luxe, for nothing screams the good life like glowing skin, sparkling eyes and a soft, shimmery head of hair: all byproducts of a healthy diet. So when you're on a tight budget, you can't afford to buy an orange that turns out to be a lemon under the peel. But never fear, I have a technique for picking juicy sweet citrus every time. Well, okay, maybe my system isn't foolproof. All I can say is I've not bagged a bad orange since employing my little pick trick. But as this post's title suggests, I got more than oranges on my mind: it would have never occurred to me to share my produce shopping secret if it wasn't for, yes, the singer Paul Anka and my daddy.

The other evening after work, I was strolling through my beloved Trader Joe's when the Paul Anka song "Put Your Head On My Shoulder" kicked on over the stereo system. Piping in the oldies is a Trader Joe's trademark in my neck of the woods. This track instantly transported me back to childhood and the special father-daughter "date nights" I enjoyed on many a Friday or Saturday night. On such evenings we would meet in the kitchen and listen to the local oldies radio station (Damn, do people even listen to radios anymore?) and he would tell me stories about his childhood growing up during the Depression and WWII, high school in the fifties, his army days, our family --so, so many things by the hour. From FDR  and Fibber McGee to ducktails (or DAs), I absorbed his life story in rapt fascination. He was a cool guy, my dad, a bit of a Fonzie in my eyes. He always wore blue jeans and a white t-shirt and I thought it was funny how he'd roll his pack of cigarettes up in his t-shirt sleeve. To my delight and horror, he'd remove his thumb and steal my nose. He did a dead-on Boris Karloff impression and regaled me with stories about Lon Chaney, The Man of a Thousand Faces. From my father, I learned how to make a root beer float, how to jitterbug, and perhaps the sweetest cliché of all, I learned to slow dance by putting my little feet on top of his while he waltzed me across the linoleum floor. And in that grocery store the other evening, I remembered dancing with my father to "Put Your Head On My Shoulder," and I could hear him crooning along with Anka.

My dad's still alive but very frail and his mind slips a little too far in the past a little too often now. The clock is counting down, and that song made me hear the second hand loud and clear. Trance-like, I made my way to the fruit, singing softly to the music and my eyes welling with tears. I just stood at the pile of oranges, weeding through them one by one with my peepers all salt and shine, thinking of my dad and about how such little time it is I have left with him and how I have already lost parts of him forever. When the song ended, I was still sorting through those damned oranges and with a sniffle and a shake of my head I thought, "Well, I should probably blog about this: how to shop for oranges Shoestring Sally style."

Okay, so this is how to pick the perfect orange --but let me stress, I mean navel oranges, if seeds are your bag I might not be able to help you. A lot of people say the weight of the orange in your hand is all important, for the heavier the orange, the more the juice. That is something to consider to be sure, but I say the only good orange is the one where you can smell the sweetness through the skin. And, yes indeed, I will stand there and sniff orange after orange until I find a winner. The best ones are often so sweet you can catch the scent from a few inches away. But even if you can't, it might still be a keeper. Just give the orange a slight squeeze and if it smells sweet at the navel, where the peel is thinner, that's a good one. It sounds easy doesn't it? Well, it isn't! It is work. I'll go through thirty oranges in the pile and walk away with three...but those three are always delicious.

Now if you're scratching your head over this post and wondering "What's up with all this orange picking Paul Anka Daddy jazz?" let me explain a little. I do without, I want a lot and I get more than I need. On this blog I indulge in materialistic fantasies and daydreams of decadence, but I also try to come down to earth every once in awhile and bring y'all with me. Because we spend a lot of time up in the stars these days, don't we? I know that designer clothes, designer houses, designer lives are just that: designs, pretty pictures and patterns to wrap ourselves up in. But there is so much more to living well than what we have. Walking home with my groceries, I thought about all the things I want like the items on my Fashion Bucket List, zero student loan debt, fortune and fame and trips to the tropics. I also thought about all the wonderful nights spent in the kitchen with my dad, and I realized, if I had the choice to get all the things I want but to lose all that he had given me, I would choose...well, my dad! Oh, I still want a Gucci purse and an Ossie Clark gown, but a dance with Daddy on a shabby linoleum floor in a shabby kitchen, in a shabbier house is by far more elegant than any of it.

And, hey, I always got top drawer oranges. And now you will too.

For Dad, an oldie but a goodie.


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