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Handmade Gifts From the Heart

12/13/2011 10:08:01 AM

Tags: Do It Yourself, Gifts, Holiday, Recipe, Karen Keb

This time of year can cause us all a great deal of stress … presents to buy, people to please, and it feels like there’s never enough money or time to go around. A few years ago I started keeping a “gift file” where I keep pages ripped from catalogs and notes on things I’ve seen throughout the year that might make a thoughtful gift for one of my loved ones. I also shop at antique stores for things that will make unique gifts for those people who appreciate things like that. Recently, I also began keeping a “handmade gifts” file where I write down ideas for things I can make that will cost very little but will still fit the bill for Christmas gifts. Here are a few of my favorites that can be done last minute…

Gingersnaps in a Jar *   

Buy a vintage quart-sized canning jar at an antique store (usually around $5) and fill with the following ingredients. Tie on a tag with the baking instructions and throw in a new wooden spoon or vintage pot holder and this gift is good to give.   

1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugargingersnaps in jar 

2 1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour¾ teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Assemble the jar ~ Spoon the brown sugar into the jar and press down into an even layer. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt into a bowl. Using a funnel or spoon, add the flour mixture to the jar and tap lightly to form an even layer. Sprinkle the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves on top.  Print out (or re-type) a tag with the baking instructions (at right, below) and attach to the jar with a fancy ribbon or piece of raffia.   


* A Selection of Homemade Baked Goods *  gingersnaps tag 

Some crowd pleasers:

-Peanut Butter Balls: 

-No-knead Bread: 

-Iced Sugar cookies (recipe below)

Wrap in tins, baskets, or bags, throw in a card, and hand deliver or overnight the package to special loved ones. Most of the cost of this gift will be incurred in the shipping, and will vary depending on where the recipient lives.   

Iced Sugar Cookies 

 2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 sticks butter

2/3 cup white sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla


1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons meringue powder (available online or on the bakers supply aisle, even Michael’s)

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons water

Sprinkles, optional

Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl and whisk to stir.

In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, beat well. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.

Press dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Roll out dough to ¼ -inch thickness and cut out cookies. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes until edges are lightly browned.

Icing: Combine the powdered sugar, meringue powder, and salt in a small bowl and whisk together. Gradually add the water, whisking until smooth. Using an offset spatula, spread on cookies and add sprinkles immediately. Let cookies dry for at least 1 hour before handling, preferably overnight.   


* Homemade Soap *  homemade soap 

If you’re a soapmaker or would like to try, check out my soapmaking instructions here: Just make sure to cut the bars neatly (or use a special wavy cutting tool) and wrap with wrapping paper, or the kind of printed paper sold at craft stores (like Michael’s) for scrapbooking. Place the soaps in an interesting container from an antique or secondhand store and tie a ribbon or raffia around it. (I trawl my local Goodwill shop for home goods where they sell for 49 to 99 cents each.)

Note: Remember that homemade soap should cure for at least 2 weeks before using, so if you make it last minute, be sure to tell the recipient what date the soap can be used.

At right: My handmade soap wrapped in strips of scrapbooking paper, in a dish stamped “Handmade in Italy” that I found in an antique store for $5.


* Homemade Bird Treat Ornaments *  birdseed ornament 

I saw this idea in the December 2011 issue of Garden Gate magazine …


3/4 cup white or wheat flour 

3 cups bird seed mix

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup raw peanuts

1/2 cup boiling water

1/4 ounce unflavored gelatin

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Measure the boiling water in a glass measuring cup. Add the gelatin to the water and stir until its dissolved. Add the corn syrup and mix well. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and mix well. It should be very thick and sticking together. Spoon the dough into muffin tins. Using the end of the handle of a wooden spoon, poke a hold through the middle of each “muffin” while it’s still wet. Allow the ornaments to harden for at least 3 hours, then dump out of the pan and tie a ribbon through the hole for hanging on trees outside. Your loved one will enjoy watching the birds snack on these ornaments all winter long.    


* Something Unique from Nature *cheese board 

Nature provides some of the most beautiful gifts I can imagine. This year, I made a point to give away some of our farm’s bounty. My husband milled some downed walnut trees and I selected some nice planks to cut into 12” x 8” slabs for bread or cheese boards. I sanded the slabs down and applied food-safe Butcher’s Block wax as a finish. I affixed small rubber feet on the backsides so the board is slightly raised and won’t slip on a countertop or table. For more on this project, see my previous post here: 

Enjoy your handmade holidays and don’t stress!  


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Post a comment below.


Jody Botelho
8/23/2012 5:17:56 PM
This year, my husband and I made 3 kinds of vanilla to give as gifts. The set of 3, 1 oz bottles will also include a small bottle of vodka to replenish the vanilla, ( as there will be vanilla bean pieces in each bottle. We made Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian. It takes a few months so we've made them already and try to shake them every day. As a baker, I'm looking forward to trying them!

Wil James
8/22/2012 4:17:22 PM
i make my special bbq rub everyone seems to love it as a gift ...cause around june july they ask for more

Andy Kremer
12/30/2011 9:57:24 PM
My girlfriend made me a homemade cookbook for Christmas and it's probably the best gift I ever received. She picked out only recipes we haven't made that she thought I'd like, so we could try them out together. Hand wrote everything out, filled it with great quotes from famous chef's, and decorated it with funky cutout words and stickers. Homemade presents are definitely the best! Andy

Kari Schuh
12/21/2011 5:58:56 PM
This year I decided to try something totally different. Homemade ghee (Indian clarified butter) in 8oz jars accompanied by a bag of Amish Ladyfinger popcorn. I put in a note about the ghee and the popcorn and a recipe for a buttery popcorn treat. "Homemade Ghee is an oil with a long history. Ghee is a staple in Indian cooking. Besides being a practical way to preserve butter, Ghee was renowned for it's medicinal and rejuvinative qualities. Ayurveda, the ancient natural healing system of India, regards Ghee as a vital food for healthy skin, mental clarity, and good digestion. Melt it over hot breads, rice, & vegetables Great for sautéing- resists smoking at high temperatures." Ghee Popcorn in a Pan1/4 cup ghee 1/2 cup kernels 1/2 teaspoon salt Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high & put in a couple kernels. When the kernels pop, the oil is ready. Remove the lid. Add the remaining popcorn kernels. Put the lid back on. Shaking pan, continue to until popping reduces to 2-3 sec. Remove lid & sprinkle over salt. Dump the contents into a bowl for good eating.

Sandy Davis
12/16/2011 8:21:25 PM
The cutting board is really beautiful!

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