The theme of this blog for the next 12 Days (at least – no telling which direction I’ll go after that) is great gift ideas. It started last year when Pragmatic Mom and I
got all hopped up on caffeine brainstormed at L’Aroma and decided to write up a series of 12 Days of Shopping (it started out as five days but Pragmatic Mom over achieved as usual peered at our coffee stained notes and came up with more days) for those hard to find/fit/figure out people on your list – so, yeah, pretty much everyone. So here is the new and improved 12 Days of Shopping.
What makes a great homemade gift? Well, food is my default for pretty much everything, so that is where I start. I do actually like to bake (results may vary) and have a few tried and true recipes that I will post below. Making your own gifts is great and not only because it is nice but it also helps you get around the no gift rule in schools so you can actually give a teacher a gift. Seriously, can anyone refuse a sugar cookie or a nice cup of tea? No, I didn’t think so.
Do you have a signature baked good? A great banana bread or coffee cake? Chocolates? Make what you love (presentation idea – wrap breads in foil or cellophane and then wrap in a pretty dishtowel as wrapping paper). What if you can’t bake? No time? You hate it? Not a problem. Grab some nice chocolates or favorite candy (you can find nice candy in almost any store from Trader Joe’s to T.J. Max – I know – I was out and about this morning) and repackage it. Fill a nice container and add a hand written note. No one will care that you did not bake. Seriously, relax.
Use a plain brown coffee bag ( 39 cents at The Container Store) or in clear cellophane bags (Container Store, Target) or any container you like (I am a born New Englander so I don’t spend a lot on containers – I pick them up throughout the year – everywhere from The Christmas Tree Shop to the Target Dollar Spot to China Fair in Newton. If you want to add a fun simple craft project, have your children decorate the bags or containers with stickers or crayon drawings. If you have an artist or two in residence and you can bear to part with any of their ceramics creations and fill them with treats – great for family and teachers. Maybe for a really special gift make it a nice ceramic or glass piece from a local artist.
I pick up boxes of my favorite tea (TAZO for bagged, Teavana, L’Aroma, Upton Tea Imports for loose) but there are tons of great teas to choose from – include some of your favorites. L’Aroma Cafe is my go-to for tea and tea related presents. If you want a chocolate based present (and who doesn’t?) go with Taza Chocolate discs and the baked goods or candy.
Last year I made this by the bowlful and gave it as gifts.
Homemade Granola Bars from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, 2008, All Rights Reserved
Flour Bakery + Cafe Granola Bars
Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang
1 cup (80 grams) dried apples
1 cup (160 grams) dried cranberries
1 cup (160 grams) dried apricots
1/3 cup (70 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (480 grams) water
1 cup (100 grams) walnut halves
1 3/4 cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (150 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick cooking)
2/3 cup (150 grams) packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup (80 grams) sweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 to 10 pieces
6 tablespoons (128 grams) honey
3 tablespoons flaxseeds
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
3 tablespoons millet
This and many other wonderful recipes may be found in Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
by Joanne Chang from Chronicle Books
Every so often, a Flour customer puts a request for more healthful items in our suggestion box … please! It’s not that Flour is full of unhealthful items-I think our baked goods are healthful, in moderation-but we are a bakery, after all, which mans that many of our offerings are necessarily indulgent. We came up with this bar as an option for customers seeking a good-for-you snack. You make a granola of oats, nuts, coconut, and honey for the base. Add a fruity filling made by blending a dried-fruit compote into a sweet, chunky jam. And finish off the bar with more of the granola base mixed with a handful of sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and millet. The bars stay moist for several days and actually get better with age (I like them best after 2 or 3 days). We make huge trayfuls of these at Flour, and one of my favorite ways to snackat the bakery is to raid the pans after the bars have been cut for serving and enjoy a plateful of edge trimmings
To make the jam: In a medium saucepan, combine the apples, cranberries, apricots, granulated sugar, and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and let sit for about 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor and pulse 8 to 10 times, or until a chunky jam forms. (The jam can be made n advance and stored n the refrigerator n an airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.)
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
Leave the oven set at 350 degrees F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
In the food processor, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, coconut, salt, cinnamon, and butter and pulse about 15 times, or until the mixture is evenly combined. Dump the mixture into a medium bowl and drizzle the honey on top. Work in the honey with your hands until the mixture comes together.
Press about two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Place the remaining one-third of the mixture in the refrigerator.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until light golden brown throughout. Remove the pan from the oven, spoon the granola jam on top, and spread in an even layer with the spoon or with a rubber spatula, covering the surface. Remove the reserved granola mixture from the refrigerator, and break t up with your fingers into a small bowl. Add the flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and millet and stir to combine. Sprinkle the mixture, like a crumb topping, evenly over the jam.
Return the pan to the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hours, or until cool enough to hold its shape when cut. Cut into 2 bars.
The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Not your thing? Too crunchy? Go to the goddess of all homemade and fabulous, Ms. Martha Stewart’s site for killer cookie recipes – like these basic sugar cookies. Hint: double the recipe, your family will be sad if all of these cookies go out the door!
The 12 Days of Shopping
Dec 1: Make Your Own Gifts GRANOLA, Amazing Granola from Nigella Lawson versus Amazing Granola Bars from The Barefoot Contessa
Dec 2: Kids Make Gifts CRAFT (ModPodge versus Clove Fruit)
Dec 3: Personalized Gifts (Fancy Address Stampers versus Pixie Chicago Stationery)
Dec 4: Father-in-Law/Dad and Mother-in-Law/Mom
Dec 5: Tutors/Teachers
Dec 6: High Tech/Low Tech
Dec 7: Hostess/Doing Good and Getting Something
Dec 8: Sanitation Engineers, Mail Carriers, Hairdresser, Delivery People, Babysitter, Cleaning People, Dog Walker/Dog Trainer, etc. (a.k.a. who else did I forget?)
Dec 9: Husband, Me (Our Own Wacko List); Capability:Mom Husband/Wife
Dec 10: Dog/Cat
Dec 11: Quick Gifts from Whole Foods versus Gourmet Food Store
Dec 12: ‘Cause I Am So Together, Last Minute Home Made Gifts: Cookies & Personalized Holiday Tags