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Homemade Holiday Gifts

Natural Times, October/November/December 2012

By Crystal Wakoa

Homemade gifts are imbued with spirit—your own and the sacred holidays’. Please, don’t let the frenetic commercialization of the season turn the beautiful act of gift giving into an obligatory, stressful, last minute rush to the mall. What can I make the friend or family member who has everything, you ask? And who has the time to make personal gifts anyway? Check out these simple and elegant homemade gift ideas.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
Bakers will thank you for the rich flavor and exquisite aroma of your homemade vanilla extract. This is quite possibly the easiest, premium-quality gift you will ever make. The price of vanilla beans, especially organic ones, is high enough to make onefaint, but the final cost is well below retail. Check out the price on the jar in New Leaf Market’s herb section (because I know you won’t be able to help yourself), pick your jaw up off the floor, select five beans and fork over a well-worth-it six to eight bucks. Then go home and make this for your baker friends.

Cut the five vanilla beans in half lengthwise and place them in a recycled glass bottle. Cover with eight ounces of vodka, making sure the beans are completely covered. Store in a cool, dry place for eight weeks. (Give it a gentle shake weekly, if you can remember.) Voila—vanilla that is robust, complex and cost-effective. Yes, compare it to “pure” vanilla, ounce for ounce. (Imitation vanilla doesn’t count. We’re in a different league here.) You can divide the vanilla into smaller bottles, add pretty bows, and make several friends happy for just a few dollars per gift.

Homemade Bath Salts
Bath Salts make much-appreciated gifts for easing joint and muscle aches, relieving stress, or just relaxing in a tub. You can use Epsom or sea salt, or a combination (both available at New Leaf Market), but I prefer Epsom salt for its relaxing effect on muscles. The Co-op’s collection of essential oils gives you lots of scents to choose from, each with specific properties. Chamomile and lavender have a relaxing effect. Peppermint, lemon and orange invigorate. Eucalyptus is good for colds and flu. For a romantic bath, try jasmine, rose or sandalwood. Use your favorites, but avoid those that can cause skin irritation – basil, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, black pepper and bay.

Here’s what to do: In a glass bowl, combine one cup Epsom salts with anywhere from 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of essential oil. The amount depends on which oils you use. Use the larger amount for citrus oils, as they are less strong than others, but really, you can’t mess this up. Start with 1/4 teaspoon and stop when the aroma makes you swoon. Stir thoroughly. That’s it! Optional additions include a teaspoon of oil—jojoba, olive, almond—whatever pleases. If you want to color your bath salts, use herbal colorants, such as beet powder, which can be found in the bulk herb department. To package, fill recycled jars; add a festive ribbon and a tag listing the ingredients.

English Toffee
For a friend with a discriminating sweet tooth, gather the ingredients for the most delicious homemade English Toffee ever!

English Toffee
1 pound butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

You will also need a candy thermometer.

In a tall saucepan, melt the butter slowly over low heat. Add sugar and almonds and raise heat to medium-high. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, allowing the mixture to boil wildly, turning a rich golden brown, until the candy thermometer reaches 300° F (hard crack.) Pour the hot mixture onto a cookie sheet, no need to grease the sheet because of the butter in the recipe. Quickly sprinkle the chocolate chips, then the chopped walnuts, tapping them down gently with a spoon. Cool, and then freeze the tray. Break the toffee into pieces. Place in a decorative holiday tin, separating layers with wax paper. Delicious, festive and special, English Toffee is a gift to be savored.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. May your gifts reflect your best intentions and the spirit of giving.

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