Thursday, December 14, 2017

Never-fail Homemade Presents That Are Easy To Make

It was awesome to read Twitter this weekend with all the updates of snow incoming from very different places on Earth. A lot of folks from old and new world reported having a very happy Sunday with a mug of cocoa snuggling under the blankets with their families. The families were getting out to let their kids have fun with the snowflakes for the first time in their life. 

Having the first real snow of the season on Sunday, when you can truly relax at home in your most comfortable PJs and embrace this magical mood to the fullest, is a blessing, do you agree? A Christmas miracle of its own kind. 

And as this Christmas feeling is kicking in - for real - I'm already all into the process of piling the Christmas presents. 

Not yet fully in minimalism, I nevertheless feel much irritated quite often with the pointless possessions and over-the-edge gifting of the unnecessary things. I try to order perishables for presents, shop in the thrift stores, and reuse as much as I can. Not really a minimalism warrior yet, rather a timid consumerism rebel.

So, based on all the facts above, I decided to go for the home-made presents this year.

It's not the first time I'm doing this, so I have a nice list with an abundance of items to cook, make and bake calmly with lots of love in these three weeks that I got before the New Year. 

This year I skimmed the list to the most foolproof and perfect present recipes. Most of them would be food goodies - which I reckon the best solution. You enjoy making it, people enjoy eating it. They're very easily whipped up with a bottle of wine or a pack of a deli. What remains, in the end, is just a glass jar, some crumbs, and happy feeling. Our planet could use more of those.

So, let me tell you about all the homemade presents I ever made and gave. They're always a big, big success and very little hassle. 

Plum Chutney

A winner for all the meat-eaters in your life. Spicy, hearty, sweet and sour, with a dense cinnamon-cloves aroma, it's a perfect condiment for any roasts or BBQ. I use this recipe, it's in Russian, but you can go for this one - it's pretty similar. 

Of course, it's best to make it when the plums hit in, which is September. I was farsighted enough to make a big batch back then. It was a hectic time with hubby stuck in the hospital, yet I managed to spend one evening on this meditating activity. If you don't have plums around at the moment, you're welcome to make chutney out of any seasonal stuff - pumpkin? Persimmon? Orange? Go for it. The great thing about this Indian preserve is that it is very various and pretty much always a success. 

The onion marmalade, or Confit D'Ognion

A magical sophisticated French appetizer. It is to die for when served with the cheese plate or pate with crackers and washed down with wine. Again, I use this recipe, and here's the English version, but it's missing honey - add extra 100 grams of honey and it'll be even better. 

The preparation is an absolute easy-peasy for beginners. Then it takes several hours for your marmalade to boil down into divine gooey sweet and savory goodness of the most beautiful deep purple color. Makes a great weekend project. That's what I did this Sunday - made it up, put to simmer, and then sat in the warm kitchen, snuggling in my PJ overalls, binge-watching The Handmaid's Story, and just stirring the pot occasionally. Choose your prettiest jars for this one, and I guarantee that it will be a hit. 

NOTE: you don't even have to buy the jars! Collect all petite glass pretties from the jams, pates, capers, and olives that you eat through the year. Wash off the labels, and re-use them. 

The Christmas cakes

They're massive. I used this recipe. It is very similar to the Stollen cake, but using at least twice as much filling ingredients. These rich, indulgent, made to occasion cakes are bursting with the nuts and candied fruits, and butter, and spices, and the warmest feelings of the year, and a pinch of Christmas miracle, of course.  

For the NY 2014, I made four of them. You could tell how stuffed they are with the good things by the fact that each "pound cake" actually weighed more than 2.5 pounds. My mom made the prettiest linen bags for them, adorned with a crocheted trim. Neatly packed, they went to all the four households of the extended family. Made a very impressive and appreciated present! Didn't last long, but I still get praised.

You do have to spend a little fortune on the ingredients (still reasonable compared to store-bought presents.) Also, you'd better have some baking experience before going for it. But the result will amaze your loved ones, and make you feel oh so proud of yourself.

Biscotti cookies

Wonderful Italian crisp cookies. The can be made in big batches and given to everyone as a present, or with a present, in nice coned packages made of the gift paper. 

NOTE: I must admit that I get the store-bought wrapping paper. I made my own wrapping paper couple times, but frankly, it's way too much ado for making something that will last only a moment. And what's even more important - sorry not sorry - it never looks as good under the Christmas tree as the store-bought. So, this is my compromise. I'm fine with it. 

What's great about biscotti, is that the fillings are so variable. You can make a right one for every person in your life. So far I tried: 

The first four are sweet. The latter one is a perfect savory snack to be served with wine, how they do in Italy. So imagine making a batch of this babies, pairing them with onion marmalade, a nice little piece of Brie cheese, and a bottle of Chianti and giving to your boss, mom, neighbor, best friend, reading club buddy and who not. I guarantee they'll be thrilled and enjoy your gift to the most. 

Wooden spoons

They're affordable and lovely. With a little personalization (which takes only half an hour), they make a cute addition to any of the gastro-presents mentioned above. There is absolutely no need for your recipient to be a cook. You can still use a wooden spoon to stir a store-bought mac-and-cheese, or just to beat things around. 

Cute baby rattles

They're simple, fun to make, look adorable, and stuffed with your love. Pair them with a jumbo pack of diapers, and the new parents in your life will be really grateful for saving them some cash, while still adoring the handmade souvenir. Another pro is it doesn't make annoying sounds like most of the baby presents do nowadays. 

So, this year I'm going for the onion marmalade, plum chutney, biscotti, and probably trying out the panforte and homemade beef jerkies for the first time. 

I can't wait to try the jerkies. If they're fine,  I'll be giving them to my fitness-obsessed friends, as it would be a perfect non-carb gift. Hope they turn out good - wish me luck! 

Biscotti, marmalade, rattles, and little handmade tree ornament packed & good to go!

I also have several pretty Korean wash clothes at hand, and few tubes of a good hand cream to fill my present baskets with. Couldn't feel more confident about the upcoming celebration.

My only concern so far is those teenager nephews. Still thinking about what could be a good perishable present for the teenagers. Old good cash, I suppose. But what to pair it with? 

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