Well-intended / Homemade gifts give the holiday a special touch
In celebration of Christmas, I love to give homemade gifts. That said, I understand that not everyone experiences the same creative joy when faced with pinking shears and a glue gun that I do. But I'd like to encourage you to give it a try.
Remember the fun of dyeing and stringing the macaroni necklace you gave to Mom for Christmas when you were 5? So, it clashed with her diamond earrings a little, but she was still gorgeous. And what about that orange juice container pencil cup Dad put on his office desk?
When I lived in Cambridge my neighbors were mostly international students and brought with them the holiday traditions from their homelands. I can't tell you how much fun it was at Christmas to receive gifts and share our heritage by way of baked goods and decorations. I learned to make a fabulous Norwegian stew, a French everyday cake, caramel from Argentina and a German apricot torte. A Canadian friend made us our tree skirt, and as we scurried from house to house (they were all identically built, but our individuality resonated at Christmas), we grew more and more festive. Most of us were not wealthy, many lived on student loans and grants but cheer lit our homes.
If you have serious craft or culinary anxiety, choose something simple, but this is the time of year when it's more fun to make something than to shop. Try to think of your ancestors. What did Grandma make? OK, so Grandma maybe wasn't the best example, what did her mother make? And give it a try.
A little warning - sometimes crafts fail. It happens to all of us. Cakes sink, gingerbread houses look as if they've been hit during hurricanes, wreaths whither, candied nuts burn, and milk scalds and the fabulous gift you had been planning to give is a disaster.
No one actually remembers the time they made an entire batch of elegantly decorated sugar cookies without a single mishap. My mother, grandmother and I once made an enormous batch of jam from berries we stole from the woods. To reduce the mess, one of us (it might have been me) got the brilliant idea of wearing smocks made from garbage bags. While protecting our clothes efficiently, the smocks proved to be extremely flammable and while no one was hurt (thankfully); the commotion and fire extinguishing ruined the jam but that sticky memory is stuck forever.
Last year, I made granola for my friends. I thought that perhaps we had enough sweets and it would be nice to have a bag or two of healthy homemade granola to counteract the inevitable indulgences of December. It was fabulously messy, gave me an excuse to explore almost every bin of the bulk foods section of Whole Foods and I could play mad scientist mixing grains, nuts and fruit. Cranberry, flax and pine nut granola was my favorite. My daughter liked the pecan, vanilla and currant one. I found the recipe online. There are many. The oats were toasted first, and the kitchen smelled divine. My recipe called for olive oil (which, I included) but there are many that are lower in fat. I then scooped and mixed the other ingredients and labeled the bags and tied a bow on them. It was fun.
I also infused vodka with fruit last year. That was wonderfully simple. You put fruit in a jar or bottle and cover it with vodka. It's a wonderful way to play bootlegger. How does grapefruit and ginger sound? Rosemary and peach? I've heard pineapple is good.
It's up to you. Again, label and you're done.
The craft possibilities are, of course, endless. You may have always wanted to decoupage. Almost anyone can knit a scarf, so someone to teach you if you don't know how. Make candles or herbal bath salts.
Engage your kids to bake, paint, glue, cut, paste and trim whatever you need to do. But just remember to consider the homemade in the midst of all the shopping. And most of all - enjoy!