A rant inspired by too many stale baked goods next to the office water cooler
With most of us on stricter budgets than we may have been in years past, and considering our society's increased awareness of how our choices affect the environment, edible gifts are a good thing... as long as you follow some basic guidelines.
1. Package all edible gifts attractively. Appearance is everything. I understand that taste is super-duper important, too, but what I am trying to say is that presenting a gift nicely makes it more appetizing, and therefore, better appreciated. Avoid ziplock bags, saran wrap and paper plates. For candies, use treat bags with sparkly ribbon. Top gifts-in-a-jar with a circle of fabric, secured with some festive elastic cord. Be sure to attach a big shiny bow or a fun curl of ribbon to a gift basket or gift bag. The ubiquitous plate-of-Christmas-cookies can certainly be enhanced by some creative packaging: a nice cookie tin or (for crisp, flat cookies) a clear plastic sleeve (with some pretty ribbon) so that the cookies are packaged as a stack.
2. Choose upscale or homemade over grocery store varieties. If you can't afford See's, please don't give a Wittman's Sampler. It just looks sad sitting there unopened next to the See's Candy that someone else gave. If you don't have the time or skill to whip up some homemade caramels or truffles, Trader Joe's has some gift-able candies and cookies in decent packaging. Oh, and just to be clear, a loaf of nut bread from the discount grocer is not a gift; it's a heart attack in wasteful plastic clamshell packaging.
$- Trader Joe's Mini Candy Cane Cookies $$- See's Candy
3. The closer it gets to Christmas, the more something with a shelf-life will be appreciated. Sure, the first tin of cookies or tray of candies makes us all feel merry and bright, but we all have our limits. The closer it is to Christmas, the more likely it is that the gift recipient (and their family or office-mates) are already getting burned out on festive sweets. Not only that, but if your scheduled delivery is postponed, your recipient isn't stuck with something stale.
$- jam or jelly, pickles or salsa
$$- vacuum-packed coffee
$$$- A nice bottle of the recipient's favorite liquor
4. Choose something savory. Again, this time of year people are getting tired of sweets, so choose something savory. Caveat: Teachers probably get more chintzy edible gifts than people in other occupations. Your child's teacher does not want another Dollar Store Christmas mug filled with Hershey's Kisses. Go savory, go with something with a shelf-life, or forget the edible gifts altogether and go with a gift card.
$- Spiced nuts
$$-Salami & Cheese
5. With homemade gifts, include clear instructions for their use and storage. Hot cocoa mix is an appropriate cuddle-up-in-the-wintertime gift for a lot of people, as long as they know that it's hot cocoa mix and how to use it. Include nicely printed instructions: "Mix 2 tablespoons Hot Cocoa Mix with 6 ounces hot milk. Snuggle up and enjoy." Likewise, that ubiquitous tin of cookies might be appreciated a bit more with a tag that read, "These cookies are freshly baked. Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container in the freezer up to one month." Certainly, if something requires refrigeration, make that very clear.
6. Give a themed food basket. Even practical items tucked into a bed of raffia in an attractive basket can make a beautiful and thoughtful gift. If you match your theme to the recipient, it may end up being their favorite gift of the year.
$- homemade canned pasta sauce with a pound of gourmet pasta
$$- A bag of sushi rice, a package of nori, a jar of pickled ginger, wasabi and a couple of sushi rolling mats
$$$- One of my favorite gifts one year was a collection of foods produced in Butte County. It included a jar of honey, a bottle of wine, a couple bags of flavored almonds, some specialty olive oil, a package of rice cakes and some citrus fruit.
7. Be aware of food allergies and preferences. If you give peanut brittle to someone who doesn't like nuts, it won't be appreciated. If you give something that contains peanuts or peanut oil to someone who is allergic to peanuts the outcome could be far worse. Likewise, a gluten-free family won't be able to enjoy anything made with wheat or oats. It's not a great idea to give sweets to a perpetual dieter, salty foods to someone who has heart disease or taffy to someone known to break their teeth. And certainly, do not give alcohol to anyone unless you have confirmed that they drink alcohol. In the event that you're giving a gift to people you don't know well, kindly make sure that the ingredients, especially any possible allergens (nuts, dairy, wheat, eggs, shellfish) are clearly and neatly marked.
8. Budget appropriately. Edible gifts can certainly be an economical choice, but be sure to budget for the item itself (or the ingredients and time to make a homemade gift), and attractive packaging including a nice tag for labeling. Maybe you saved a lot of money by making homemade honey wine for your friends this year. Well, here's the thing: most of your friends think the concept of something fermenting in your closet for six months is a little weird, but we might to be willing to try it, if it's packaged in a decorative bottle (widely available online) rather than a re-purposed soda bottle.
9. Maintain a clean kitchen. And the appearance of one. Make sure that your counters and utensils are clean. Don't make edible gifts while you are sick . Don't put your child in the position of delivering an edible gift while he/she is sick. Also, if it is apparent that your cat sat on that plate of appetizers you were planning to bring to a holiday party, just don't bring it. Your hostess would much rather be greeted with a big hug and a hearty "Merry Christmas."
10: Make a double batch... or a quadruple batch. You
must taste whatever you make for quality control reasons.
And if it's as delicious as it looks, your housemates will want to
sample it too. Of course, it never hurts to have a few extra items
available for last minute gifts, and if you end up not giving them away,
it certainly won't go to waste, will it?