As Jaime pointed out in her terrific article last Wednesday, those who are making such a big deal about the official recession have apparently never pinched a penny in their lives.
Change is hard, so I guess I should give folks a break. But the lean living tips making headlines have been a way of life for me since I can remember. My family has always drawn names with the extended family for Christmas gifts, and my mom has been known to implement themes like Thrift Store Christmas, Homemade Christmas, and No Presents Christmas (that one didn’t go over so well).
For the last seven or eight years, I’ve been giving handmade gifts to my friends as well. For almost everything. Whether they like it or not. (I hope they like it.) But eventually the hand-knit hat and scarf well runs dry, or it’s just not appropriate. Nothing says awkward like an overdone gift from someone you barely know (plus there’s that pesky carpal tunnel syndrome). Sometimes I need to get otherwise crafty.
Giving the gift of food is nothing new, but it no longer needs to be the dried out fruitcake and stollen of the past. (Though if I ever made a stollen for my mother, she’d be the happiest clam in the sea.) There are plenty of ways to show your love, or like, or “hey, you exist in my orbit,” that doesn’t involve candied fruit baked in spice cake. If that’s your thing, I mean no offense; fruitcake is an easy target. I just prefer my spiced fruit either cooked in a pie or in liquid form.
To help us all make it through this recession with wallet and dignity intact, here is a list of some awesome food gifts you’ll be proud to give and want to keep for yourself.
As we've discussed, making your own spice blends is the way to inexpensive, flavorful meals. Spice up your Secret Santa exchange with a decorative shaker of Cajun seasoning or Jamaican curry you mixed yourself.
You can spend a fortune on specialty food stuffs at fancy boutiques that are easily made at home. Infused oil is just one of those stuffs. Try one of these recipes (or your own), decant it in a cute bottle with a cork stopper, and you have the perfect gift for the foodie on your list. Don’t forget to make enough to keep for yourself.
You can make your own tea blends in much the same way as spice blends. Combine spices, herbs, flowers, and fruits like cinnamon, citrus zest, lemongrass, mint, or rosehips with your favorite tea or just experiment with herbals for a refreshing noncaffeinated beverage.
A couple of years ago, for Homemade Christmas, my sister gave me a spice cake mix in a hand-sewn pouch. The recipe was clipped on with a red clothspin. It was so cute, and the cake was delicious. Baking mixes are a great holiday gift. The giver just mixes up the dry ingredients of their favorite recipe, and the receiver gets a delicious time saver. Here are some excellent tips to get you started.
What says love more than cookies? (Confidential to my future husband, engagement snickerdoodles are sweeter than diamonds.) A tasty stack of cookies in a fun box with a cookie cutter tied to the top would make a thoughtful, delicious gift.
My Grandma J made mints with her cookie shooter for every food-centric holiday and sometimes just because. This amazing-looking recipe for peppermint patties looks like it would make fantastic replacement, and requires no confectionary violence. It’s going on my to-do list, along with the recommended packaging. Speaking of…
Here’s where you can really get crafty and have fun. Get out the paint, glitter, stencils, glue, ribbon, paper, pens, scissors, stickers, and go crazy. Paper bags, boxes, jars, and cellophane make for delightful packaging. Keep in mind your style and that of your recipient.
I love little jars, especially ones I can repurpose. Reusable glass jars store all of the beans, grains, nuts, teas, and herbs in my pantry. Seven years ago, a friend of mine gave me two huge bags full of baby food jars that I’ve used over the years to store and distribute anything and everything. Just this summer, I used the last one.
This year, I’m giving mulling spices and a variation on my masala chai recipe. I found some cup-sized jars at my local dollar store that are just perfect. They have a plain brushed metal lid and mason-esque styling. I tarted them up by gluing mylar confetti to the lid and tying the handwritten label to the neck with hemp string.
The whole thing cost me about $3. Of course, I bought my spices in bulk, and as I mentioned the jars were a buck a piece. Then I just used what craft supplies I had on hand. I think they came out super cute. I hope my intended recipients don’t mind that I spent so little. I know Mom will be proud.
Yields 1 cup
1/2 oz whole allspice
1/2 oz clove
1/2 oz star anise
5 whole nutmegs (crushed coarsely)
6–8 cinnamon sticks (crushed coarsely)
dried orange peel, yield from 1/2 orange
To dry orange peel
1) Peel off just colored part of rind.
2) Cut into thin strips and place on cookie sheet.
3) Bake at 250 for 1 hour or until dried.
To make spice mix
1) Combine all spices in a bowl.
2) Add dried orange peel.
3) Put into container of choice.
To prepare (Maybe include these directions on your gift tag.)
1) Place 1 tbsp of mulling spice onto a 4” square of cheesecloth. Tie tightly with string to make sachet. You can also use a tea ball, or go the commando route by skipping the cheesecloth/tea ball altogether and using a strainer on the service end.
2) In a sauce pan, bring 1 quart of apple cider (or whatever beverage you plan to mull) to a boil.
3) Add sachet/tea ball to cider and allow spices to boil for 10 minutes.
4) Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Notice how good your house smells.
5) Serve (strain into mug) and enjoy.
(Additional photo courtesy of Flickr member celestefrittata.)