At this time of year, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the
sheer number of gifts that we have to find. Gifts for our kids,
family members and close friends are a given.
Then there are the gifts for all the people who touch our lives:
teachers, coaches, office staff, the neighbors, the fellow parent
who gives our kid a ride home from practice each week. That's a lot
of presents. How can we show our appreciation to all the people who
make our lives a little bit easier without going bankrupt buying
Starbucks cards? - Emily
One way to spread holiday cheer is by giving a homemade, edible
I like to think outside the dessert box because we are all
overloaded with sweets this time of year. Instead, I like to give
gifts that will help people cook a little better all year long.
One of the keys to giving special holiday gifts is the
packaging. Your colorful berry vinegars and elegant flavored salts
will really impress when presented in attractive glass bottles and
jars. You can find pretty vessels at stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics,
Michael's or Hobby Lobby. Cost Plus World Market is another good
source. For a really wide variety of choices, check out specialtybottle.com.
One of the easiest edible gifts to make is flavored salt. Try
giving your friends and neighbors a jar of citrus salt, which is
heavenly sprinkled on fish or chicken. To make, simply layer strips
of orange or lemon peel-use only the outer peel, avoiding the
bitter white pith-with kosher salt in a glass jar. This is
especially fun in winter when there are so many exotic citrus
varieties in stores like Meyer lemons and blood oranges.
For bakers, flavored sugars are a welcome gift. To make vanilla
sugar, which is a delicious addition to most baked goods, scrape
the inside of a vanilla bean into two cups of sugar and stir to
combine. Cut the bean in half and add it as well. Citrus sugars
also are a wonderfully fragrant gift. The idea is the same as
vanilla sugar: add the zest of a large lemon or orange to two cups
of sugar and stir to combine.
This gift requires advance planning. To make, split open half a
vanilla bean and place it in a 2.6 ounce glass jar. Cover with
vodka and seal. In about a month, you will have a flavorful version
of vanilla extract. I sometimes use orange-flavored vodka to make
orange-vanilla extract. If you are coming up against the holidays
but want to try this project, you can always give the extract
before it is ready and tell the recipient to wait to use it.
Nothing elevates an ordinary salad like an exotic flavored
vinegar. And a tall bottle of brightly colored homemade vinegar is
a gift that will be sure to impress. Making flavored vinegar is an
easy project. Berry-flavored vinegar is a great one to start with.
Mix four cups of blueberries, blackberries or raspberries-frozen is
OK-with one cup of white wine vinegar in a large bowl. Mash the
berries lightly to release their juices. Add the remaining vinegar
to the bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Store in a
cool, dark place for one to four weeks, stirring every few days and
tasting weekly until desired strength is reached. When the vinegar
is ready, strain it and pour into decorative bottles for giving.
This recipe will yield about three bottles of vinegar.