‘Tis the season for that dreaded and sometimes painful ritual of exchanging gifts, faking surprised joy at unfortunate choices such as underwear and socks, and later making covert exchanges for things slightly less loathsome. As much as I try to appreciate how “it’s the thought that counts,” I can’t help but think of each Hannukah party with vague trepidation, even going so far as to practice my “happily surprised” face in the mirror before leaving. Though things have certainly improved since previous years, thanks to the advent of this little thing called the internet, where I have a handy little wish list all set up to direct those well-meaning but misguided gift givers. I, however, have found that the tables have now turned, and I’m on the other side of the equation, awkwardly handing out presents that may or may not hit their mark, sometimes to comical degrees of failure.
So here I sit, right on the precipice of holiday baking, utterly unsure about where to begin. There are the relatives, friends, and coworkers, all so completely different that they each may as well have a magnetic force that repels them apart, so impossible would it be to ever see everyone in one place together. No matter, there is one thing that unites them; a love, or at least appreciation, of good food. Figuring that just about anything homemade, sweet, and delicious couldn’t go too far wrong it’s just a matter of narrowing down the options…
Caramels are always a nice choice- Easy to make scads at a time, and very adaptable in terms of adding flavors for your own unique spin, too. This recipe has served me well before, with the simple substitution of soy or coconut creamer for the cream, and margarine for the butter. Already fantastic as is, I can’t help but toy with the idea of using molasses instead of corn syrup, with the addition of a hefty dose of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. Gingerbread caramels, anyone?
Of course, there’s always the classic brittle, simple enough to whip up in about 5 minutes and always well received (baring nut-allergies, naturally.) The original peanut is definitely tasty, but my Pistachio Chai version (recipe in Nov/Dec VegNews) was such a hit around the house, and the warm spices are perfectly appropriate for winter, this might be the perfect thing to make in mass quantities.
Having recently received the above peanut butter cups myself from the ever-thoughtful and talented Mimi Clark, I remembered how absolutely wonderful such a simple treat can be. Hers were near flawless, perfectly tempered and with just enough salt in the filling to really bring out the fresh peanut flavor- It’s the little touches that really count. These would be fantastic to make and give as well.
Two years ago, I made my family members their own full pans of cinnamon rolls, nestled into cute little brown and gold paper rounds and topped with sticky maple glaze. Though they wouldn’t travel or ship as well as many other options, they were met with such rave reviews, I feel practically obligated to mention them once more.
Oh, and how could I chat so long about homemade gifts without mentioning the chocoholic’s holiday staple, fudge! Also infinitely adaptable, easy to store, send share, and makes about a million servings per pan because just a little square should do you. This one is simple enough to whip together at the last minute, even for someone a bit more challenged in the kitchen.
Speaking of all this candy, don’t forget that any Halloween candies can easily be converted into a more seasonally appropriate treat, too. Imagine how wonderful it would be to discover a Cashew Joy in your stocking on Christmas morning! Just pick out festive wrappers and bags to present your goodies in, and no one will be the wiser.
It seems silly to suggest cookies, since they’re probably the first thing that anyone considers, but it’s worth poking through the archives to unearth a few gems. Turns out, I have two types of peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies with a malty twist, spicy animal crackers, ultra-chocolatey little numbers, rocky road bars, and even some biscuits for the four-legged friends among us. And that’s just on this little old blog! For more options, my favorite online recipe resources is VegWeb, and they have cookies galore to choose from.
Now, I know that some people on your gift list can be tricky, and claim to not have a sweet tooth. Craziness, I know! Anyway, you can still humor them and make them something they’ll enjoy, too. A homemade blend of dukkah would be just lovely, and especially well-suited to someone who likes to cook and may come up with creative uses for it. Along those same lines, homemade spice mixtures are great for the “cook with everything,” because while they may not buy such things for themselves, they really are fun and convenient to have around. Plus, you may even be able to introduce them to new flavors altogether! Don’t forget to toast your spices and grind them yourself to make the mix extra special and flavorful.
Well, those are the first things I can think of off the top of my head… but I’m still not sure what I’m what to make! What are you cooking, baking, and giving this year?