Monday, December 3, 2012

Homemade Holiday

As much as I would love to ignore Christmas, it's just not possible anywhere in the U.S.  It is a lot like trying to ignore the summertime at 4 pm during a heatwave, no amount of telling yourself that the sweat is NOT happening will make it go away.  But Christmas comes every year anyway, like death, taxes and American Idol, so I have made my share of holiday goodies.

I have opted out of Christmas for the foreseeable future, any of you who are now clucking about that decision, please consider this:  it was the most kind, most loving, most well thought out Christmas gift I ever received.  Isn't that the spirit of the season??

However, I do understand that many people actually enjoy this holiday and want to not only participate, but wallow in the festivities too.  Finding gifts for everyone on your list can be daunting and expensive, so I traditionally made a variety of treats every year.  The following is a list of some of the more successful offerings that are also fairly easy to make and easy on the wallet.

  • VINEGAR BLENDS  -  Make your own signature blend by combining a variety of vinegars, such as seasoned rice, apple cider and balsamic.  Jazz them up by adding spices or fresh herbs and put in a cute bottle with a fetching label.  You can also make a blend using your favorite wine as a base, fresh fruit juice like pomegranate also works well as does sparkling wine, so experiment and be creative.  Give your blend a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, stirring or shaking once a day.
  • SPICED ALCOHOLS  -  This is very easy, just purchase your drink of choice, I recommend bourbon, rum and vodka, and remove about an ounce from the bottle.  Drop a variety of dried spices into the bottle, replace the lid and let stand for two weeks, shaking the bottle daily.  Cinnamon sticks, star anise, black peppercorns, whole cloves, fresh grated nutmeg, crystallized ginger and vanilla beans are some of the best add-ins.  This stuff tastes as good as it smells and inspires custom holiday cocktails a-plenty.
  • VANILLA SUGAR  -  Carefully slit open 4 - 6 vanilla beans and immerse them in a 5# bag of white sugar for two weeks.  Divide the vanilla sugar into gift bags or jars with a tag advising its use in coffee or to make cookies with.
  • RUM CAKE  -  Replace the water in your packaged cake mix with rum and bake per box instructions for a super easy cake.  Serve it with homemade whipped cream flavored with vanilla, cinnamon and sugar for a fairly light dessert.
  • DIPPED IN CHOCOLATE  -  Just about anything enrobed in chocolate is a welcome gift.  Pretzels, Oreo cookies, crispy rice treats, dried nuts & fruits and fruit jelly candies.  CandiQuik coatings make it easy (get it at Big Lots for a good price), but you can also use regular dipping chocolate and even chocolate chips melted with a teaspoon of vegetable oil.  MAKE SURE NOT TO GET YOUR DIPPING CHOCOLATE WET!!!!!  Even a drop of water will harden up your melted chocolate faster than a sailor on shore leave, so be careful!  To further prettify your dipped treats, sprinkle them with colored sugar before they dry.
  • STAINED GLASS COOKIES  -  This one is great for kids, either make sugar cookies from a mix or your own recipe and cut into desired shapes.  Cut out small impressions in each cookie, like 'ornaments' on a tree shaped one or the center of a star.  Crush up a roll of Lifesaver's candy and sprinkle the crushed bits into the impression on the cookies and bake.  The candy will melt leaving colored 'glass' in your cookies.
  • GO TO THE DOGS  -  For the canines on your list, get some carob chips from the health food section of the grocery story.  Secure a selection of hard dog biscuits and cookies to dip in the melted carob and reap the slobber of happy dogs.

My last suggestion is purely decorative:  Disco Dust.  Edible food glitter is an amazing thing, even a Ho Ho looks festive with glittering red sparkles.  A generous sprinkling of disco dust will liven up even the most last-minute, desperation, I-forgot-the-Christmas-party-at-the-office food offering.

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