I was blobbing out in front of the TV the other night when Tim Gunn appeared in an ad. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was for. All I caught was Tim standing in a doorway festooned (the doorway, not Tim) with a giant red bow: “A homemade gift says ‘cheapskate’.” He actually said that!! Tim, Tim, I’m really disappointed in you. I am such a big fan, but where’s your Christmas spirit?
I wasn’t actually losing sleep over this statement, but later, lying in bed, I started thinking about it. Isn’t a homemade gift a gift of love? Do we have to go mad every year with shopping, spending and generally agonizing over the holidays?
Will she like it? Is it too cheap? Is it too expensive? If I buy it now, will I end up regretting it and buying yet another gift later? Am I a binge spender?
Isn’t a homemade gift more in step with the true spirit of the holidays? Further reflection uncovered memories of past homemade gifts I have received. There was the baggie of six little spice balls of mystery fruit, tied up with a wisp of slightly used curling ribbon. Then there was the tiny jar of tired looking dilly beans someone had tried to foist off as a present. Oh, and I should not leave out the marmalade from Uncle Joe—the jar only half-full and schmutzed on the side, dripping with bits of orange. Maybe Tim has a point. I get it! That’s what it means when someone says, “It’s the thought that counts.”
Still, I haven’t abandoned the notion that a homemade gift can be really special so I have come up with a few pointers. I agree with Tim Gunn, your gift does make a statement about you. Don’t let it say ‘cheapskate.’
• Make it extravagant. By that I mean, make it precious. Even a few truffles, wrapped in a special box with gorgeous ribbon trump a giant tinful of crumbling cookies made with shortening.
• Make it thoughtful. Don’t give a bag of cookies, no matter how fabulously buttery and delicious, to your friend who has been struggling with her weight all year. Give her a jar of homemade mustard or some roasted, spiced pumpkin seeds that she can throw on a salad instead of something sweet. If you don’t know the person well (a teacher or a neighbor), give some thing neutral and classic, nothing containing anchovies or jalapenos.
• Give as much thought to the wrapping as to the gift itself. DO NOT USE BAGGIES to wrap your gift. Use beautiful, wide ribbon and cellophane bags or sheets. Go to the Container Store, the Five and Ten, or Sur La Table and find some neat little gift bags, boxes and tins.
• Ask yourself, would I pay good money for this if I saw it in a store? If the answer is no, then regroup and pick something else.
• Pace yourself. Pick one or two gifts to make. If you are making two kinds of cookies, make the dough one night, bake them the next night, and wrap them on the third night. You will not start resenting this process if you take it in chunks, and you can still stay out of the stores, stay home and listen to music.
To be continued next week…
For now, here is a recipe for blueberry sauce, a pleasant summer memory in a jar. Of course you can cheat and use frozen blueberries. I particularly like the small wild blueberries from Maine. This sauce is good for pancakes, ice cream, and my personal favorite, plain yogurt. If you are feeling ambitious, it would pair nicely as a gift with the muffin mix I posted last week.
Blueberry Lemon Sauce
(Makes 3 pint-size jars)
8 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 to 1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1. Pick over berries to remove stems and any soft berries. If using frozen berries, don’t bother to defrost them.
2. Combine the berries, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 cup sugar and orange juice in a large (4 quart) pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, decrease the heat and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, until sugar is dissolved thoroughly. Taste and add more sugar if the berries are very tart.
3. Ladle the sauce into clean jars and refrigerate for up to 3 months. If you don’t wish to refrigerate the sauce, pour it while still hot into clean, warm jars, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Seal and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. “Canned” sauce will be best if used within 6 months
BOILING WATER BATH
1. Fill a large, deep pot with water and bring it to a boil. The water must be deep enough to cover the tops of the jars by 1 to 2 inches.
2. Inspect the canning jars for cracks and discard defective ones. Wash them well and fill them with hot tap water until you are ready to use them.
3. Wash the lids and screw bands. (Use new lids each time to ensure a proper seal.)
4. Drain the water from the jars and fill them to within 1/4 inch of the top (headspace.) Wipe the tops and the inside of the rims with a wet paper towel and cover with the lids. Screw on the bands.
5. Using a sturdy pair of tongs, set the jars in the boiling water bath, on a rack or a thickly folded dishtowel. Process the jars for the prescribed time.
6. Remove the jars from the water bath and allow them to cool. After 12 hours, inspect them to make sure they are sealed: press the center of the lid; it should remain concave. Label and date the jars.