It's a tough task, finding an appropriate gift for everyone. Friends, family, relatives, coworkers, teachers, the mail carrier.
Here are three things I try to remember:
Less is more: Dark chocolate with a handwritten note is much more meaningful than a store-bought card stuck to a $40 waffle iron that will rarely get used.
It really is the thought that counts: Try coupons for a candle-lit dinner and breakfast in bed, or gift certificates to their favorite restaurants. Better yet, prepay a bar tab in their name. Presentation is(n't) everything: Sometimes the presentation is the present—six tiny hats on a six pack, or a bottle of wine wrapped in a scarf. With those hints in mind, and the following gift ideas to inspire you, you will save money and impress your friends and family when you give these home-made gifts:
Vodka Infusions: Start with any vodka, but here's my secret: I buy handles of Fleishman's and run it through my Brita water filter seven times. This results in a smoothness that rivals other top-shelfers. Pour into airtight containers (mason jars work great) and drop in your flavor-maker. Try the zest from a Meyer lemon, habanero peppers, or freshly peeled ginger—all three are quick and easy, but distinct. Whole juniper berries make a nice take on gin. Open jars and sample every couple days. When you reach the desired flavor, pour through a strainer or cheesecloth. Funnel into decorative bottles, diluting with more vodka to taste.
Pickled vegetables: Great when paired with other gifts in a basket. Try jalapenos, carrots, asparagus, green beans or, of course, cucumbers. But as Glenda Hyde, home economist and food safety instructor at OSU's extension office points out, "Only use up-to-date tested recipes from reliable sources. Aunt Tilly is not a reliable source," she warns. "Take care to follow recipes exactly."
Tea: First get busy in the bulk section of Nature's or Whole Foods where you'll find herbs, flowers, loose-leaf teas and load-'em-yourself tea sachets. Test a few flavor combos, then spoon into individual tea bags. Package in a holiday tin.
Flavored Salts: Shallot salt, garlic-salt, truffle salt...mmmm, salt. Many super simple recipes can be found online, like bacon salt, which is as great a rimming salt for bloody mary's (thewannabechef.net) as lime salt is for margaritas. Package in small tins or spice jars (containerstore.com).
Kahlua: The basic recipe calls for brewed coffee, brown sugar, vanilla and vodka, but there are a million methods. My own recipe is too good to share (sorry folks) but I have tried several from the Web and they have all turned out pretty damn good. Hint: Always stash a bottle or two for next year. In my experience, they get smoother and better with age.
Hot Buttered Rum Mix: Yes, there's ice cream in it! Over low heat, melt a pound of butter, then add a pound each of sugar and brown sugar. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Then add 1 gallon of vanilla bean ice cream, one tablespoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and ½ teaspoon each of cloves and allspice. Stir until smooth, transfer to jars and refrigerate. Deliver it with a bottle of Sailor Jerry or Captain Morgan spiced rum.
Etched Glassware: Buy etching solution online and get glassware from the dollar store. (Make sure it's real glass.) Straight-sided pints, spice jars and vases, which can double as decanters, are the easiest. Use scissors or an Exacto knife to cut designs into contact paper. Peel off the backing and carefully stick to glass, making sure there are no bubbles. Apply etching solution, then let dry. Rinse carefully before peeling contact paper off to reveal design. Pair pint glasses with beer, martini glasses with vodka or gin, and a decanter with a bottle of wine.
Bloody Mary Basket: Fill a basket with habanero-infused vodka, bacon salt and celery salt, pickled veggies, and homemade bloody mix. (Hangover not included.)
Ten Gourmet Gifts to Mail:
Gourmet "of-the-month-clubs": wine, beer, chocolate, cheese
Mozzarella and Ricotta Cheesemaking Kit from Newport Market
Imported Prosciutto from Redmond Smokehouse
Beef from Omaha Steaks
Beer Making Kit
Culinary Magazine Subscriptions
Funny gag gift: edible arrangements (ediblearrangements.com)
Hickory Farms summer sausage
Harry and David pears