I started working for Christmas in my college days, when the gift-giving spirit was high but the balance in my bank account was not. It’s become such a part of my holiday tradition that I stay up late the week before Christmas with a hot glue gun and craft paint scattered around me on the floor. Until now, I like to personalize my gifts with a homemade item. Here are a few I’ve made (and received!) over the years.
Buy in bulk, then jar
One of my most popular DIY gifts is this easy recipe gift. It starts with some empty glass jars, enough to hold at least 2 cups of the stuff. The easiest option is soup or stew, but I also gift cookie mix and hot chocolate mix. The idea is to buy some non-perishable food items in bulk and then portion them out to make easy-to-cook snacks or meals. For the simple soup, buy a bag of lentils (any color), some brown rice, and some dry beans (any kind). Now, the flavor: Buy dried onions, dried minced garlic, dried basil, salt and pepper. Add equal amounts of lentils, rice, and beans to the jar, as much as is convenient for you. Leave about an inch of space for your dressings. For a pretty look, layer lentils, beans, and rice. Next, add at least 1 tablespoon each of the onion, garlic, and basil, and at least 2 teaspoons each of salt and pepper. (It’s hard to add very Lots of spice, so don’t worry about that.) Now for the fun part. On a gift card or a cute piece of cardstock, write or type a simple recipe for the gift recipient, then poke a hole in the corner and attach with some festive ribbon to the jar: Add all ingredients, plus four cups chicken or vegetable broth, to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until lentils, rice, and beans are tender, about 30 minutes. Add cooked meat or vegetables as you like. Add lots of Parmesan cheese.
A fun craft for any age, it can also double as an activity to entertain kids who may be home on holiday. One of my husband’s favorite Christmas ornaments to this day is one that my sister-in-law made for us years ago. The key is to buy clear glass or plastic ornaments, which provide an elegant canvas for your creations. You can buy them at craft stores; Make sure to look for ones that you can take off. The one my sister-in-law made is especially clever: a melting snowman. You will need fake snow, or finely shredded white paper, a small piece of fabric for a scarf and the following pieces of colored paper: a snowman’s nose (orange), snowman’s arms (brown) and snowman’s eyes (black, or you can use two small black balls). The funnel helps too. Remove the top of the ornament, set the funnel in the slot and add the fake snow first, then the snowman parts. The result is a bit abstract but gives the effect of a melted snowman within the ornament. Other creative ornaments I received include one that was filled with my wedding invitation, carefully cut into long ribbons that wrapped inside the large glass lamp once it was slipped inside. Matching ribbon is attached where the ornament hook will go. It looks beautiful, and it’s a nice way to preserve a piece of our wedding. Clear glass ornaments are also easy to paint; Set of six hand painted ornaments would make a lovely gift if you have the patience and artistic eye for this sort of thing.
If you have someone in your life who enjoys an alcoholic beverage, DIY drink kits or infusions are a fun gift. If you are steeping, start doing so as early as possible, so that the flavors have enough time to properly flavor the alcohol. Soak times will vary depending on the alcohol and what you put in it, but give yourself at least 5 days. Taste your bait after a couple of days to see how it fares. One of my favorite flavor combinations for this time of year is cranberry, orange, and cinnamon. Bourbon or whiskey is best for this, but vodka and gin work great, too. To get started, you will need a glass bottle with a cap. The best route is to just use the bottle the wine came in, or an almost empty bottle you already have. To the bottle add 2 or 3 slices of orange peel, 4 cinnamon sticks and 1 cup of slightly crushed fresh or frozen cranberries. Pour one bottle (750 ml) of the alcoholic beverage of your choice. Seal the bottle and leave at room temperature for 4 days. Shake the bottle, then pour the liquor over a fine-mesh strainer into another container, even up the bowl. Shake off the solids and pour the liquid back into the bottle. Tie the bottle with a festive ribbon and include a recipe for a Cranberry Whiskey Cocktail, if you’re feeling a little more festive: To a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the following: 2 ounces cranberry juice, 2 ounces orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed), 1 ounce lemon juice, 2 ounces flavored whiskey or bourbon, 1 ounce simple syrup, 2 sprigs of thyme. Shake to cool, then strain into a glass and garnish with an orange peel.
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