Gift-Giving Season

Holiday SeasonThanksgiving has come and gone and the hustle and bustle of the next holiday season has arrived in its place. Some of us go into autopilot mode this time of year – making gift lists for friends and family, trips to the mall or placing Internet orders, while others prefer to wait until the week before.

However, this year is still a tough one for some of us. I can’t help but see a little bit of a silver lining peaking through, a promise of better times to come in the coming years. With the ongoing economic turmoil, the continuing trend is to cut back on frivolous spending and bring the holidays back to their roots, giving simple gestures of love, straight from the heart.

That’s why homemade food is an especially good gift this year – it’s inexpensive, personal, unique and naturally delicious because it isn’t loaded with preservatives. What better way to wish family and friends a happy and healthy holiday season than with homemade goodies made with love?

packing materialsNot only can you save money and customize your gifts, but you really do give a piece of yourself when you cook and bake for someone. So, don’t spend time in traffic at the shopping mall this year, instead spend a few hours a week unleashing your creative spirit in your own kitchen. Your loved ones (and your wallet) will thank you.

Homemade cookies, jams, spice mixes and cakes are a welcome addition to any gift basket. Skip the store-bought fruit cake that no one eats and make your own, tender lemony fruit cake. Interestingly enough, the fruitcake dates back to ancient Rome where they used barley mash to make a cake with fruit and nuts. Fruit cake is a dessert that has found its way to many cultures all around the world, but still is something that I’ve never been fond of. Its heavy, brick-like consistency makes it durable but not delicious.

Cellophane BagsHowever, some have found a good use for the Christmas bread-like dessert that never gets eaten. Every January in Colorado, there is a great fruitcake toss… how’s that for playing with your food! Since I love the idea of a cake filled with chewy dried fruit, I was inspired to make my own, updated version of lemon pound cake with dried cherries, apricots, and dates.

There are so many ways to pack home-made foods, from fancy to practical. Stationary stores sell lovely, gilded gift boxes in every dimension. My favorite stationary shop in New York City sells collapsible boxes in hundreds of colors. They have stickers, satin ribbon by the yard, and the most unique tiny gift cards that remind me of old-fashioned Victorian calling cards. But if these boxes are not in your budget, try simple cellophane bags.

Wax PaperMy fruit cake and Hungarian nutroll store well, tightly wrapped and like most home-baked treats like my rugelach, it also keeps well in a sturdy cellophane bag tied with a pretty ribbon. It’s a great way to use small, leftover pieces of ribbon at the end of a spool. Small cellophane bags are inexpensive when you buy them in bulk on the Internet and they ship right to your home.

If you are pressed for time or don’t want to order the bags, foil storage containers lined with sheets of wax paper are a fast and easy way to store your treats as they travel to friends and neighbors. Most grocery stores carry a cheap, easy-to-transport selection of foil baking dishes with plastic storage lids in various sizes.

Article was first published in November 2008, updated November 2010.

Delicious, Seasonal Recipes

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