The Gift of Yum
Homemade Treats Spark Holiday Cheer
by April Thompson
Gift-givers seeking memorable presents while avoiding holiday shopping stress need look no further than the kitchen. Edible homemade gifts make special, welcome treats, help slow down the shopping frenzy of the season and increase creativity in the kitchen. While 79 percent of recipients return some holiday gifts every year, food and handmade items rank in the top 10 treasured gifts, according to Survey Monkey research.
Mackenzie Burgess, a Fort Collins, Colorado, dietitian and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices, encourages holiday gift-givers to think beyond the Christmas cookie. One of her go-to holiday gifts, a lentil and brown rice dry soup mix, features colorful dry ingredients layered in a Mason jar and the recipe attached with a pretty ribbon. “This shelf-stable dry soup mix is the perfect, plant-based meal to make on a chilly night, and makes for a unique, affordable and thoughtful gift,” says Burgess, adding that the Mason jars can be repurposed.
For a sweet but healthy treat, Burgess offers freezer-friendly energy bites, which can be made in large quantities in advance and frozen or refrigerated, then popped into jars at gift time. These gluten-free, vegan treats can be made with common pantry items, including a base of oats, nut butter and a sweetener like honey or agave, as well as “fixings” such as shredded coconut, dried cranberries or goji berries, chopped nuts, or chia or flax seeds to boost the flavor and nutrition. Natural food coloring can also be added to foster a more festive look.
To give a gift a “wow” factor, blogger Shelley Fulton, in Hudson, Ohio, recommends making a themed basket that may include a mix of homemade and purchased items. “You can take your signature spice rub or that homemade soup mix everyone raves about and expand into a gift basket with other products
that support the theme, like barbecue tools for the spice rub or a kettle with cute soup bowls and a new ladle for the soup mix,” says Fulton, the creator of Two Healthy Kitchens. For the dog lovers on a holiday list, Fulton suggests making homemade sweet potato dog biscuits, which can be bundled in a dog bed with other canine comforts.
Stephanie Hafferty, author of The Creative Kitchen: Seasonal Plant Based Recipes for Meals, Drinks, Garden and Self Care, suggests handcrafted items like infused vinegars, herb salts, herbal tea blends or spice mixes for foodies on the holiday gift list.
Infused concoctions can be easily made by steeping a light vinegar like champagne or cider with rosemary, thyme or other perennial herbs, along with a spiraled citrus peel, for two weeks before gifting. “Infused vinegars look so lovely and go with so many winter dishes. They also have the advantage of being antiviral and having the shelf life of a few years,” says Hafferty.
Herb-infused olive oils make another gorgeous foodie gift, but Hafferty warns of botulism risk if the herbs are not completely dried beforehand and fully submerged in the oil. “Make this one closer to the time you plan to give it and include instructions to use within a few weeks,” recommends the Somerset, England, author.
Unusual spice mixes are another favorite gift of Hafferty’s, which can encourage home cooks to get creative. “Ras el Hanout is a versatile Moroccan spice blend that elevates dishes to another dimension. You can upcycle an old tin and decorate it with images of Moroccan tiles and add a homemade booklet with recipe ideas,” she says.
For a hostess gift that will be eaten immediately, Fulton loves making fruit kabob bouquets, made festive by using red and green fruits like strawberries and kiwi cut into holiday-themed shapes like stars and bells. “This is a fun one to make with kiddos,” adds the blogger.
If concerned about preparing food items for someone due to COVID-19, Fulton suggests assembling a countertop herb garden or a handmade book of favorite recipes, with a promise to cook together soon.
The spirit that goes into holiday gift-making matters as much as the end product. Making thoughtful presents for loved ones is a great time to reflect upon our blessings, especially those that have blessed our lives this year.
Connect with Washington, D.C., freelance writer April Thompson at AprilWrites.com.