Thursday, November 20, 2008

Homemade Christmas Gifts

Making Christmas gifts can be fun and less expensive than purchasing them. (Refer to my blog entry date 11/7/2008). I have made more than my fair share of gifts. I have studied women's magazines from cover to cover to find the latest craze in handmade gifts for years. I used to keep a file of things I would make at a later date. (Luckily, I came to my senses and tossed them a few years back.) Now you can Google "handmade gifts" and come up with more ideas than you have time or money for.
I would caution you to visualize the end product before you start the project. I have found that a juice can covered in wall paper looks like a juice can covered in wall paper, not a trendy, artistic pencil holder. And the old CD with hot glued lace around the edge does not look like a boutique inspired coaster, it looks like a CD covered in lace quicky project that belongs nowhere but the trash. Don't ask how I know this!
Here are some projects you can make and give with confidence...
1. Rip a CD with your favorite songs you think the other person would like. If you have the ability, make a label for it with a photo.
2. Make a handmade ornament. There are so many ideas for this; one of my favorites is to get a larger plastic ornament and around the hanger, hot glue wire rimmed ribbon and holiday trim of various sorts. (See photo).
3. Make loaves of bread or baked treats. I will include my no-fail banana bread and my all-time favorite lingonberry bar recipes, thanks to Julie.
4. Making candy is the easiest! The fudge recipe off the Kraft Marshmallow Cream jar is darn good and easy. The other favorite is microwave peanut brittle. Clever packaging will make homemade gifts extra special. There are so many holiday wraps and containers out there, it's fun to see.
5. I have some homemade liqueur recipes that are very good. Reminds me of the old Julia Childs skit on SNL. Remember when she got sloshed doing a cooking demonstration? This could be just as hazardous! Everyone I give this to LOVES it. I go to Pier I or that type of store for a fancy bottle to put the liqueur in.
6. Homemade gift baskets are terrific. Gear them specifically to the person. Use a clay pot or plastic bucket of some sort to put everything in. Dollar stores are great places to find the containers and goodies to fill the them. For example, guys: electrical tape, super glue, duct tape, flashlight, rags, tire shine towelettes, etc. For the ladies, all kinds of bath goodies, bath puffs,, mirror, comb, and "primping" products. Go green and wrap them in a kitchen towel or car chamois instead of plastic wrap. You can go higher quality by going to other stores, as you know the sky is the limit. We are talking budget here.
7. Knit or sew. If you know how, this is a good time to dust off your knitting needles or sewing machine. Go to Michaels or Joanne Fabrics and get some ideas. There are kits that take little time/effort and they are so sophisticated now, it's a snap!
8. Get the kids involved. I admit I still have in my Christmas box a pair of napkin rings my son made for me in 1st grade with beads and macrame twine. One is about 1.5 inches in diameter, the other is about 6 inches in diameter. I smile every time I see them as when I opened them and used them that first year, he was so proud.
Banana Bread
1/4 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
3 overripe bananas
2 c. flour
1 Tblsp. baking soda
Cream butter and Sugar. Beat in eggs. In separate bowl, mash the bananas and add them to mixture. Blend in flour. Add 1/2 c. chopped pecans if desired. Spray loaf pans with Pam, bake for 45 minutes at 350. Makes tow large loaf pans or 4 small gift sized loaves.
Lingonberry Bars
3/4 c. lingonberry jam; found at IKEA or specialty grocery stores
1/2 lb. butter
1/2 c. sugar
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter and sugar. Add flour and vanilla to dough consistency. Press in bottom of jellyroll pan to about 1/4" think. Bake 325 for 20-25 minutes. Heat lingonberries in microwave just enough to make them thinner consistency. Spread over dough. Over the top of lingonberry glaze, drizzle powder sugar icing, made of powder sugar, milk and 1/4 tsp. vanilla.
Microwave Peanut Brittle
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. corn syrup
1 c. dry roasted salted peanuts
Microwave 4 minutes, stir thoroughly, microwave 3 more minutes. Watch carefully. Do not scorch.
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. butter
pinch of salt
Microwave 2 more minutes
Stir in 1 tsp baking soda rapidly and pout immediately on grease cookie sheet. When cool, break into bite sized pieces.
1 quart water
2 1/2 c. sugar
3 Tbsp instant espresso coffee
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. 100% vodka
You will probably want to double or triple this recipe. Gently boil water, sugar and coffee for 3 hours to make thick syrup. Cool, add vanilla and vodka, bottle.
3 c. sugar
2 c. water
1 lemon peel
6 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. chocolate extract
3 c. 100% vodka
Mix sugar, water and lemon peel. Gently boil for 20 minutes, cool. Remove lemon peel, add extracts and vodka. Bottle.

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