The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


December 5, 2013

Amanda Stone: Add your own sparkle to homemade offerings

CARTHAGE, Mo. — You can't beat a homemade gift, especially when it's the gift of food. (Unless the gift is a greenhouse, a dishwasher or plane tickets to anywhere. There are a handful of exceptions.) This year, make gifts out of love.

Whether it's because you have a lucky recipient in mind or just enjoy experiencing the sheer joy that comes from making and sharing yummy things, make your gifts special by stepping outside the candy box. There are healthier and more unique options. Not that there's anything wrong with cookies and candy -- I graciously accept all gifts of food.

The only thing homemade gifts lack is the shine and sparkle of packaging. So grab ribbon, fancy paper, glitter and your glue stick, and make it happen. Cover empty foil and plastic wrap boxes with festive paper, and stack them with cookies and other goodies. Do the same thing with Pringles cans. I'll be using my child's labor to make my wrapping paper this year: All I need is a roll of brown paper, a star stamp and her tiny fingers.

Make a fun kit by packaging ideas in cute boxes with lots of shredded paper. So polished, personal and fun. Here are some unique gift ideas to get you started:

Ice cream sundae: Include jars of caramel and chocolate sauce, cones, waffle bowls and tiny bags of nuts, chocolate chips, toasted coconut and tons of sprinkles.

Cupcakes: Include a variety of baking cups, a handful of recipes, a frosting spatula, a couple of tubes of frosting and a good selection of sprinkles.

S'mores: Class it up by including skewers, dark chocolate, shortbread cookies and homemade or gourmet marshmallows.

Grilling: Include homemade or gourmet barbecue sauce and rubs. Add a basting brush or skewers.

Martini: Include a lemon, a jar of olives, a martini shaker and tiny bottles of vodka, gin and vermouth.

Mulled wine: Include a bottle of wine, a bag of mulling spice and an orange studded with cloves.

Hot chocolate on a stick: Include a few bags of chocolate on a stick (recipe below) with directions, small bags of marshmallows and peppermint sticks.

Make a rustic, dainty rosemary wreath. It will bring a warm winter scent to anyone who breezes by. I simply snipped off a handful of rosemary from my own plant and used twine to tie it into form. I cut and bent a coat hanger to spell the word JOY, then strapped the rosemary to the wire. So pretty.

Don't overlook layering ingredients in a jar. This idea is timeless. Layer beans and include a spice packet and instructions for seven-bean soup. Layer ingredients for whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies or pancakes, and tie on a recipe with twine. Use a bottle with a wide mouth and include ingredients and a recipe for bread. Bread in a bottle. Brilliant.

Make homemade extracts for the bakers in your life. They take a few months before they're ready to use, but a true baker will understand having to wait to use your precious gift. Tie a tag on the bottle with the date indicating when it will be fully steeped. To make vanilla extract, simply slice a few vanilla beans lengthwise, pop them into a bottle or jar and fill with vodka. Make lemon or orange extract by adding the zest of one of the aforementioned fruits, as well as a teaspoon of sugar to 1/2 cup vodka. The alcohol pulls the flavor out of whatever you add to the jar. Give your extracts a shake every day, and they'll be ready to use in about three months.

Making homemade infused liquors is easy and impressive when poured into pretty little bottles. Fill a bottle with fresh cranberries and a peeled lime rind. Add about 1 tablespoon of sugar, then fill the bottle with vodka and shake to mix. For those with a sweet tooth, add bright candies such as Skittles, Lemonheads or Red Hots to vodka. The alcohol turns the same vibrant color as the candies. Herbs, fruits and even strips of cooked bacon can be added to vodka to make a festive, unique gift. Most infused vodka only takes a few days to be ready, and it makes such a pretty presentation.

If all else fails, whip up a big batch of homemade granola, flavored popcorn and some biscotti. Package the granola in cute jars, the popcorn in little bags with pretty ribbons, and pop a few biscotti in a mug with a small bag of coffee. Instant, homemade love.

Try some of these recipes as gifts. Their recipients will be provided with a pleasant surprise.


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