Holiday gifts are such a challenge for crafters. It seems like a no-brainer to make a gift but in the end it’s an expensive, time-consuming, soul-crushing experience. Sobs between sips of heavily-spiked eggnog, fingers crooked and bleeding after hours and hours of work. It’s not worth it. Sorry, family and friends. You’re all lovely people and you deserve great gifts but it’s just not possible.
My mom’s family is diverse and pretty large. I can’t afford to buy the kind of presents that they deserve for each and every one of them and I like to think that, since they are all grown adults, they buy themselves the things that they really want. I try to give everyone the same gift (so it’s equal) which presents another challenge. It’s really difficult to find something that they would all like and use or put in their homes. I refuse to give weird pieces of crap also known as “decorations” or “tchotchkies” because I don’t think I’d like to receive any. We don’t have the same taste and that’s ok, let’s just not pretend that we do.
So I like to gift them with food. Everybody likes to eat and generally everyone cooks or bakes at least enough to get by. Buying food gifts can get expensive (gift baskets, fancy chocolates, liquor) so I try to keep everything DIY. I’ll be the first person to tell you that DIY gifts do not mean free or cheap but when it comes to food, you can keep it relatively inexpensive while staying fun and thoughtful. Besides, DIY gifts are like a present for the gifter as much as they are the giftee. Making gifts is fun and rewarding even when it’s exhausting and all of your hair has fallen out.
Last year I put together these hot chocolate mugs. They were really fun and adorable and probably cost less than $5 for each mug. If you cut the marshmallows as I suggest below (using a biscuit cutter that’s just slightly smaller than the opening of the mug), you’ll be able to sip the cocoa through the marshmallow the way you would with whipped cream. It’ll be like a cloud keeping it hot and yummy. This is my favorite part.
While packaging everything up in this “I thought of you and hope you enjoy a cozy evening courtesy of me!” kind of way is lovely and gifty, the key to this present is the marshmallows. People that have never made marshmallows before think that they are witchcraft. They’ve never given any thought to where marshmallows come from (marshmallow trees?). They will be very impressed with you.
Here’s how to do it!
1. Make your marshmallows. While they’re setting up, put together the hot chocolate mix.
2. Line the mug with one of the little gift bags. Pour in hot chocolate mix to fill about 3/4 of the mug.
3. Now that the marshmallows have set, use the biscuit cutter to cut them into circles. Dust them lightly in confectioners sugar and place two or three over the hot chocolate mix. Close the bag and secure with ribbon.
4. Add a gift tag with instructions for the cocoa mix and maybe even include a recipe in case they want more.
Ta da! Merry Christmas!
Next week, I’ll be sharing a few more quick and inexpensive DIY gifts so stay tuned!
What’s your favorite DIY gift to give? How do you gift food?
* The mugs are the most expensive part of the gift. You can pick up adorable Christmas themed mugs at the dollar store or you can go all out and buy a hand-thrown piece on Etsy. Let your budget be your guide. (I used these CB2 mugs because I loved that they came with a little spoon. I believe they’ve been discontinued but here they are on ebay. $3 per mug! ) But this mug will become your relative’s new hot chocolate mug and when you see them next Christmas they will say, “Every time I drink hot chocolate in that mug I think of you!” Awww! Choose wisely.
I recently received two gorgeous pumpkins in my CSA. I was so excited because I’ve always dreamed of making a pumpkin pie from the real thing instead of opening a can! I’d never done it before because I’d always been nervous about picking the proper kind or messing up the process.
So I turned to one of my most trusted resource when it comes to food: Alton Brown. You can watch the pumpkin pie episode of Good Eats on Amazon instant. Watching Alton go through the process of making pumpkin puree made me feel totally confident (I mean, it’s actually ridiculously simple so no need to worry) and ready to tackle a pie.
It was so delicious that I’ve made a couple and played around with the recipe. Here’s my take on Alton’s pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin Pie from Scratch
6 oz of gingersnaps
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoon ginger
2 oz unsalted butter, melted
16oz pumpkin puree
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Crust: In a food processor, combine gingersnap cookies, brown sugar, and ginger until cookies are finely chopped. Drizzle in melted butter and pulse to combine. Press into prepared pie pan. Bake on top of a cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes. Cool before filling.
Filling: Bring pumpkin puree to a simmer in a small saucepan for 3 minutes until thick. Add half-and-half, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Return to a simmer then cool for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, yolk, and brown sugar together until creamy and smooth. Add cooled pumpkin mixture. Carefully pour filling into pie crust and bake for 45-50 minutes, the middle will jiggle a little.
I loooved the pure pumpkin taste that came from the real deal. The canned stuff needs so much cinnamon and clove, etc, just to give the illusion that it’s pumpkin. This pie tastes like pumpkin first and spices next which I really life. Besides, the crunchy crust gives a is a zesty companion to the mild filling.
Best of all, the pumpkin puree freezes really well. I’ve already got a few bags ready for Thanksgiving and maybe even Christmas (if I can resist that long!). I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the can again!
What do you think? Have you ever cooked with real pumpkin? What’s your favorite pumpkin pie recipe?
ps. Some pumpkin yarns!
Once the weather gets the slightest bit of chill in it, I am craving pumpkin. Pumpkin soup, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin pie. From September 1st to December 1st, I am annually on a mission to ingest as much pumpkin as possible.
Maybe this season we can wrap ourselves in pumpkin-colored sweaters, too! Here are some spicy, warm, and sweet yarns in your favorite flavor!
I’d love a big cowl or maybe a pair of mittens in pumpkin. But a wooly pair of socks sound nice too! There’s just too much pumpkin and not enough time.
What’s your favorite pumpkin treat for the fall?
ps. The winners of the #kollabsockalong were announced yesterday! Congratulations and thank you to everyone who participated!
It’s summer so it’s more than officially CSA season, guys! I’m obsessed with my CSA and I love hearing about new people joining up with ones in their neighborhoods so I just want to preach about it today. I like to relate everything back to knitting but I think that people who make things care about where things come from and in this case, we’re talking about food. Everybody cares about where food comes from. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a Food Network.
CSA means community supported agriculture. It’s a form of a food co-op (that’s how I present it to people without getting into the long explanation) but it’s not like a grocery store. Members of the CSA buy a share in a local farm before the season, an investment that allows the farmer to have some capital before there is produce to sell. Once the food is harvested it’s divided amongst the members evenly (or however the division is agreed upon) and you get a great return on your investment. There are CSAs for everything you might want to eat: vegetables, fruits, meat, milk, eggs, yogurt, maple syrup, honey. (There’s even a yarn CSA!)
Long story short, it’s a great and impressively cheap way to get huge amounts local, fresh, organic produce to your home. I’ll be completely transparent: Jon and I pay about $40/week from May to Thanksgiving for pick ups every two weeks of veggies, fruit, and a whole chicken. And it’s a LOT of food. (Imagine spending $40/week in a New York City Whole Foods. You’d starve.)
I’m always bragging about my membership to anyone that will listen. Eating local and organic are trendy and I think a lot of people think I’m snobby or elitist or whatever (I live in Brooklyn so, surprise! those stereotypes are true and I’m ok with it) because I want to put things into my body that aren’t poison. I hate thinking of it in terms of what’s en vogue and what’s not. We should all want those things and we should all want them for as little money as possible. Foodies come in all shapes and sizes, you’d be surprised!
It’s important to me that I’m doing something good for my body and the environment and my community (my required volunteer work is baking a dessert from leftover fruits for a soup kitchen). I love the trust that I have in a farmer that is willing to put food directly into my hands instead of putting a big corporate label on it. I love that I can have fresh produce although I live in a huge city. I also love that I don’t have to make trips to the farmers’ market (we pick up all of the goods at a bar two blocks from our apartment) and that I am saving money because there is no middle man. Why should I not want to brag about that? And how could I stop myself from recruiting friends?
While I happen to think that it’s all too good to be true, lots of people I talk to have hang ups about joining CSAs. (Being honest again: I took a year off after the first season I did. My lifestyle wasn’t ready yet. I had roommates and a kitchen I didn’t like spending time in.) You get a lot of food so you either have to do a lot of cooking and canning or split your share with someone (this year we’re doing a half share, hence our every-other-week pick ups and it’s taken a lot of the burden off). It’s intimidating, yes. The first CSA we participated in left us drowning in plums and kale. The refrigerator we shared with a roommate was packed to the gils with leafy greens and purple beans. But I’ve learned that sometimes you have to pick around the moldy cherries and keep the good ones. Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not saying that I’m a freegan eating out of dented cans (sorry, freegans! I know that’s a harsh stereotype that isn’t true at all). I just know how to produce less garbage.
Some people don’t like that you have to take home beets and radishes even if you don’t eat beets and radishes. But I’ve learned to eat weird vegetables that I’ve never heard of before. That’s valuable, too! I pride myself in the variety of foods that I now crave when I grew up eating hot dogs, peanut butter sandwiches, and Twizzlers. And, when all else fails, I’m more than happy to share with my family and friends. Besides, it gets them talking about the whole thing!
And, lastly, some people just don’t want to cook. This is something that I care about deeply because just a few years ago the only thing I knew how to cook were Totinos pizza rolls. I ate gummy bears for dinner with cups of coffee made light with artificially flavored creamers (and I didn’t even know how to make coffee until I was 20). I was broke and I was lucky enough to have roommates that knew how to take care of me and gigs that at least provided a disappointing pizza lunch. I hardly slept during college so I was lucky enough to not gain weight but I’m surprised I’m still alive. I wanted to eat food that was good for me but I didn’t know how to make any of it taste good nor did I take the time to do so. Fast forward a few years and I won’t say I’m Julia Child but I know how to put together a meal. I’ve taken a couple of classes to learn very basic things (knife skills, how to butcher a chicken, and how to mix cocktails because that’s important, too) and knowing those things has given me confidence. (It also doesn’t hurt to have a food documentarian boyfriend who is obsessed with molecular gastronomy but I think that I have more staple dinner recipes than he does.) That’s something that delights me. Just like making a sweater, I can make something that is good to eat.
And I feel about cooking much the way that I do about knitting: it can secretly be super simple. You don’t have to know cables or colorwork to put together a sweater that is warm and fashionable. People are still impressed that you made something that is, at it’s heart, just knit and purl stitches. It’s the same with cooking. It might look impressive because it’s wrapped in a parchment bag or roasted with herbs but the simplest techniques make delicious meals. I don’t need a fancy Michelin-starred plate. It isn’t always beautiful or complex (any vegetable roasted with olive oil is so delicious it feels like cheating) but it’s a home cooked meal.
So I say more of us should give this a try. It takes some getting used to but the amount of awesome you’ll feel when you’re sitting down to a meal you made yourself with produce that’s sustainable and organic, that didn’t break the bank, will make the craziness of offloading three pounds of peaches into a pie totally worth it.
To find a CSA near you, check out Just Food!
Have you participated in a CSA? Did you love it?
How was your holiday? I hope you got some time off even if you weren’t celebrating. Jon and I cooked Christmas dinner for my mom’s family. It was overwhelming but it turned out great. It felt so wonderful to take the pressure off of my grandma who has made us many many Christmas dinners and deserves to have some time off from all of the fussing. Besides,who else can cook a better Christmas ham than a couple of New York Jews?
December has been a really wild month and I’m excited to see what is in store for next year. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before! (I actually feel nervous and sad around the end of the year most of the time. I think I get a little bit too nostalgic. This year, I’m looking ahead and excited by what’s on the horizon!) I’ve been very good about taking photos, as I promised.
The month is certainly not over yet but here are a few of the pictures I’ve taken in December.
A lot happened this month. And there are plenty more photos on instagram where you can see all of the crazy projects I’ve been working on. I can’t wait to reveal them all!
Did you have a busy holiday? Are you excited for next year? Do you have any knitting goals lined up?
I’ve put down my faire isle sweater for the past few days to work on holiday crafting. That’s right. I said I wasn’t going to do it this year but there are a few people I just can’t help but craft for. Since that’s the case, I can’t really share any photos of what I’ve been making until the gifts have been given. And I’ve really been making fun stuff so I can’t wait to share.
While we’re all being patient, I’ll share some photos. I’m trying to take more pictures because I live in the best place in the world where exciting things are always happening and I should take more WIP photos and I love hearing from my followers on instagram. Last month I was pretty successful taking a photo almost every day.
Follow me on instagram for photos every day in December!
Have you ever done a photo-a-day challenge?
Have you seen this new magazine By Hand? The first issue just came out and wow, I am in love. I read about By Hand before it was published at the Juniper Moon blog a few months ago and I have been eagerly awaiting it’s debut ever since! They were selling some really fantastic fundraiser t-shirts. (I bought one. I mean, how could you not?)
The magazine is not just focused on knitting (although there are patterns!), it is about the whole handmade lifestyle! There are sections on cooking and growing, sewing and embroidery. I am so excited that that this publication exists!
Big kudos to the team. I can’t wait for more! Buy a copy or read a digital version on their website. And buy a cool tee! How can you not?
Have you read By Hand? What do you think?
It’s already August which means that the summer is almost over. I haven’t posted much about what I’ve been up to. I feel like I focus so much on the work I’m doing here and I would like to inject a little more personal fun stuff because why not! I’ve been looking back over my photos of all of the fun I’ve had and I sometimes have to wonder is this my life I’m living? Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of work, heavy lifting, and anxiety (I’ve learned that going to sleep early is a necessity. Even when it means skipping out on some fun) that goes on in the day to day but I somehow manage to pack a lot of adventures in to a little bidget and less free time.
Jon’s parents threw a big July 4th bar-b-que and my family got to join us for a day of drinking and swimming. And I made a tart. It was
really wonderful having so many people that I love celebrating together.
After seeing War Horse and getting a special backstage tour from our friend Holly, we dined at Strip House and joined Ashley and Andrew to
watch the fireworks in a special private party that we threw for ourselves atop Hearst Tower. What a view!
We picked cherries. Which was delicious and adorable. We picked vegetables which was hot but so rewarding especially as city folk. We ate at Googa Mooga and we went to a lot of brunches (but not enough, never enough).
We saw a movie in the park with Andrew and Holly. I’d never done that before and I can tell you it was because of the heat and the crowds but it was so much fun!
Jon and I joined Ashley in seeing OK Go. Ashley and I have seen them about once a year since we were 14. It’s still magical. We still sing every lyric and dance like crazy. It’s amazing that we are still who we are and they are still who they are after all of this time.
This past weekend was my friend’s bachelorette party which meant lounging and drinking on the beach with my closest girl friends from way back. It’s so wonderful to see that we are all living it up and I’m so proud of us for all being successful ladies!
As our friend Alex said, quoting White Knuckles, “Nothing ever doesn’t change, but nothing changes much.” It’s been a wonderful summer.
What have you done this summer? Are you still packing in memories before it’s over?
Sunday Jon’s parents threw a big 4th of July party (although, technically it was Canada Day). They have a huge BBQ every summer and there’s lots of drinks and swimming.
This year I made two berry tarts which are currently my favorite things to bake because they’re simple and easy but they taste delicious and look impressive. And I’d like to share the recipe with you!
yield 8″ pie
Graham cracker crust adapted from this Martha Stewart recipe
10 graham crackers
1/4 c sugar
1/4 t salt
6 T butter, melted
In a food processor, pulse together graham crackers with sugar and salt. Mix in melted butter and press into a pie pan. Bake for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Allow to cool completely.
8oz mascarpone cream
1/4 c sugar
1c heavy cream
Stir together mascarpone with sugar and heavy cream. Pour into cooled crust. Top with berries and allow to set in the refrigerator for an hour before serving.
Next time I plan to use a rectangular tart pan. I’d love to make big berry stripes! I was so serious about the circles of raspberries and blueberries that I almost had my tweezers out! I hope I made Martha proud!
If you’re eating bad food in New York, it’s your own fault. I truly believe that. There is no shortage of delicious food for every budget. Googa Mooga was the epitome of that idea. It was actually kind of a big food orgy of all of the best chefs in NYC. If this is the beginning of summer, the rest of it will be great.
Jon and I went straight for the Spotted Pig for a burger. April Bloomfield is our hero. And what a perfect burger! We drank the fantastic Brooklyn Brewery Googa Doc Pomus which was brewed specially for the festival. Amazing. We had a chicken sandwich from Simply Chicken by Jean Georges. Brilliant. I’ve neve had a basic chicken sandwich with so much flavor in it. And it had potato chips inside.
I think we’d had grander expectations for ourselves. We were salivating over the line up and circling our favorite restaurants on the map. But the portions were no joke and after the hamburger, we had to take a break. So we didn’t end up eating as much as we’d expected but everything that we had was absolutely delicious.
It was hot and we didn’t stay for any of the bands but we ate ourselves silly, drank to excess, and laid in the shade basking in a food coma.
Thank you, Googa gods. Let’s do this again next year.