For a time of year that’s supposed to be abundant with jollyness and cheer, it seems like it’s way too easy to get stressed out and under pressure around the holidays, especially when it comes to gift-giving.
All too often, we get totally wrapped up (pun intended, ha!) in buying things. Picking the perfect book or perfume or scented candle for your boss or crush or Aunt Marge, proving your commitment or devotion with diamonds and jewels, outdoing last year’s trend with this year’s rage—it all amounts to loving people through things.
Which can be particularly challenging when you’re low on cash. In years past, I’ve known friends and family members to hide, cry, avoid each other and completely skip get-togethers and gatherings due to gift insecurity. All of a sudden, a tradition that’s supposed to be about sharing with someone else becomes a reflection of our own self-worth.
The way I look at it, I’ve got a lot more to offer in kind than I do in cash, and it means more to give your loved ones an expression of yourself, something that you created with them in mind, something that carries a piece of who you are (other than a cute little to/from tag) with it, than it does to buy them something.
I’ve always been a fan of homemade gifts—personalized notebooks, herb-and-spice chocolate covered strawberries, scrapbooks, watercolor-and-Sharpie portraits, clay bead jewelry and homemade Beatles-quote fortune cookies have all made their way from my hands to my loved ones’ at one point.
This year, after spending some time mastering candied ginger, I decided to give little jars of an original candied nut mix I made up. I’ve done a few early gift swaps and so far, they’ve been fought over, hidden from other guests and met with a symphony of “mmm”s and “ahh”s, all of which I take to be signs of success.
I started with a batch of ginger, which yielded the extra goodies of both a ginger tonic (the reserved boiling water) and spicy syrup in the process. I gave both to my mom, a ginger-fiend who’s sure to use them as tea, mixers or probably both.
Then, I chopped it up fine and subbed it in Deb of Smitten Kitchen’s candied nut recipe, in lieu of the hot smoked paprika. I also used 3/4 cup piloncillo (Mexican raw sugar also called “panela”) to 1/4 cup granulated white sugar, which gave the nuts a really nice, deep, molassesy flavor. Mine were beautifully browned in 20 minutes, a bit shy of her 30.
So, for the cost of a big bulb of ginger root, some raw sugar and a few pounds of mixed nuts, and with the time, patience and passion to spend a few hours in the kitchen, I’m homemade for the holidays, with lip-smacking happy friends and family to boot.
Why don’t you try putting the purse down and making your own cheer this year?
Originally published for PK4 Media.