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 sugar
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 *
Some crowd pleasers:
-Peanut Butter Balls: http://bit.ly/uPwAAc
-No-knead Bread: http://bit.ly/v4DFTn
-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
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 *
If you’re a soapmaker or would like to try, check out my soapmaking instructions here: http://bit.ly/vAQ3D5. 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 *
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 *
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: http://bit.ly/vH6rZL
Enjoy your handmade holidays and don’t stress!