Is it just me or is a paper plate of assorted cookies from a neighbor kind of revolting? Sorry, but I don't know you well enough to trust your cooking and, c'mon, you put these peppermint cookies in the cellophane along with everything else, so now everything--the gingerbread boys, the chocolate chip cookies and the peanut butter blobs--all taste vaguely of peppermint. Plus, it looks like your kid dropped the plate on the ground during delivery.
Okay, so that little incident was years ago, but I would assume most of us have received questionable Christmas cookies from a well-meaning neighbor, student or co-worker at some point. Therefore, I steer away from giving cookies at Christmas. So much of a homemade treat is in the presentation. Fun snack mix or candied nuts in a pretty cellophane bag with a nice bow or a jar of jam with a nice fabric top. Neatly printed assembly instructions tied onto a Mason Jar of soup mix. Or a fun gift basket including any of the above.
Gifts that Celebrate Local Foods:
Holiday Pretzel & Nut Mix - originally from David Lebovitz - a slightly spicy, crunchy snack mix, a nice departure from the typical Christmas cookie overload. Use local almonds and pecans. Add pistachios or cashews for some textural contrast.
In the past I've given peach chutney, apricot jam and plum preserves, but I didn't end up doing any canning this summer. Now that the weather is cooler, standing over a boiling water bath canner doesn't sound so miserable. There are plenty of apples available to make apple butters and things. Valencia oranges and mandarins are also available in early December, if you want to make marmalade.
Apple Marmalade - from the National Center for Home Food Preservation - There aren't too many added flavors here, so be sure to choose a variety of apple whose flavor you enjoy. Pink Ladies, Black Arkansas, Twig and Galas seem to have more complexity than Golden Delicious or Red Delicious or Rome.
Other Sweet Stuff:
Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix - Last year we gave this one from Annie's Eats with some homemade biscotti. This year we're giving a Hot Cocoa Syrup (based on the Chocolate-Orange Syrup) with homemade marshmallows. I used Alton Brown's recipe, but subbed peppermint extract for the vanilla and added cocoa powder to the dusting mixture.
Assorted Truffles: Annie's Eats has a number of truffle recipes. Last year we tried the Pumpkin Spice Truffles and the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles from her blog. Both were well-received, but my favorite truffles were the easiest of all to make: Peppermint Oreo Truffles. Just Peppermint Oreos, cream cheese and chocolate. Total junk food, I know, but tasty! (Just always be sure to package minty treats separate from non-minty treats).
Caramels: Again, Annie's Eats is a great resource for gift-able treats. I've used this recipe for caramels again and again. This year I also made Salted Whiskey Caramels. Yum!
Gifts from the Farmer's Market
I think it's funny when people send those expensive-looking boxed fruit sets, but I like eating fruit, so I don't argue. Does that mean it would be okay to stick a bow on an 8 lb bag of Noble Apple Orchard's apples and call it a Christmas gift? Or a bag of mandarins? Why not?
But of course there are also curds from Two English Ladies, candied or raw almonds and different varieties of honey, dried fruits, pomegranate syrups and marinades, pistachio pestos, olive oil and breads from multiple vendors including Miller's Bake House,Tin Roof Bakery and Borden-Huitt Ranch. Of course, the Saturday farmers market has a good selection of non-edible gifts as well: handmade soaps, lavender products, candles, aroma-therapy stuff, even handmade chess boards. Someone--someone craftier than me--could certainly create a beautiful gift basket with some of those things, some raffia and a pretty bow.
What are some of your favorite homemade or local food gifts?