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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homemade Food Christmas Gifts

I heard on NPR today that the average person this year is expected to spend around $700 on Christmas. If you don't have a lot of extra money or you aren't able to travel to your home town, Christmas can seem like something you might rather just skip over. But one thing I have realized this year is that you don't have to spend a lot of money to make things festive or enjoy a bit of the holiday spirit. The cookie exchange, for example, was a great cheap way to do something a little bit special that brought people together. Today my coworkers and I went out for lunch, and tomorrow we are having a pizza party. Even though our employer said there wasn't any extra money for holiday parties we've found ways to have fun anyway. Same with presents - you really don't need to spend a lot of money just to let people know you are thinking of them. Somehow I went from wanting to skip the whole thing to going a little overboard in terms of my gift assembly line.

To start with - it was marshmallows for everyone! I used the recipe from the Essential New York Times cookbook. That recipe isn't very different from this recipe.  I started to realize all the different flavors you can make of homemade marshmallows. By replacing the vanilla extract with many others you can make lemon, orange, peppermint - the sky is the limit. I even replaced half the corn syrup with molasses and added spices for a gingerbread flavor. You could also replace the water in the first step with liquers to flavor the marshmallows - like Lillet in this recipe. This post also discussed root beer flavored and someone mentioned maple flavored in the comments.

Martha Stewart also has a line of useful little packaging kits for food gifts. They sell them at craft stores. The kits include ribbon, stickers, tissue paper, and boxes and work really well. Without further ado- here is how I packed up all my marshmallows. Most I mailed, but some we dropped off on a marshmallow delivery tour around town. My friend who tried one while I was dropping them off seemed to really like them.









Then I was sort of sick of making marshmallows. The initial excitement of coming up with different flavors transformed into a sticky mess. I didn't expect to spend most of December covered in powdered sugar. Even though I originally came up with this idea to make some for my coworkers, I mailed all these to my friends and was fresh out of marshmallows. So I came up with a new idea - eclairs! (Also from the NYT Essential cookbook - recipe originally from 1877). I wanted to make these for a long time, and they were really fun. I thought it was interesting the eclairs use melted butter whereas other pastries like pie crust are best with very cold butter. I made butterscotch filling instead of chocolate, inspired by the eclair I had at the Capital City Gastropub. I got a cool pastry decorating kit from Marshall's for $20 and that really helped me.

 (Pastry pen filled with eclair dough)


Then I had 6 egg whites leftover from the butterscotch filling I injected in the pastries, so I also made some peppermint meringues to give to my coworkers.




On the receiving end of things, my boss made me this awesome granola in a jar. I think it looks great, and I can't wait to try it out. Apparently it was super easy to make and mostly involved baking everything spread out on a cookie sheet.


This is all proof that thoughtful gestures during the holiday season need not be expensive - all it takes is a little creativity and effort. My boss's daughter and my coworker's husband tried my eclairs and said they were good. This made me really happy - not quite the level of enthusiasm as my apple fritters - but when people enjoy what you make for them it is extremely satisfying.

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