These days, my list of Christmas gift recipients is pretty small: my parents, my in-laws, and my friend Cristina. Cristina and I have a tradition of exchanging weird things (commemorative Tom Selleck plate, inappropriate slippers [yes, there’s such a thing], unicorn art, corgi things, etc), but with the parents I go the homemade route. As the years go by, it seems silly to gift things like movies, clothing, and gadgets that will either be ignored or quickly obsolete. Homemade means made with love… and possibly containing strands of my hair. Sorry about that in advance, guys.
Did you know if you heat maple syrup to a certain temperature, then diligently stir it for about 20 minutes it will transform into a heavenly spread of deliciousness? I found this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen over the summer and I knew then it had to be a part of my Christmas goodie package. I just purchased 2 pounds of Grade A maple syrup from Amazon and will be trying it out next week.
My mother-in-law is a HUGE fan of the San Francisco-based chocolate company See’s and loves their chocolate maple creams. Lucky for her, I worked just around the corner from a See’s and very close to a post office. I’d send her See’s for holidays and just because (yeah, I’m the best). Now that we’re in Ann Arbor, we have Zingerman’s and cookie butter from Trader Joe’s to keep her excited about getting surprises in the mail, but I know she’s missing the taste of See’s. The maple cream will be a hit with everyone, but I’ve got a feeling it will change my mother-in-law’s life.
If you’re not from or near the state of Ohio, you may not know what buckeyes are. They’re peanut butter confections, partially dipped in chocolate, and loaded with confectioner’s sugar. Whenever these were included in candy trays from family and friends growing up, I’d go straight for them and ignore everything else until the buckeyes were gone. I’ve made them every year since 2010 using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. Deb’s recipe swaps out some confectioner’s sugar for crushed graham crackers. Not that it makes it any healthier, but it adds an interesting texture to the sweets. I think I also might slip in some Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter into this year’s buckeyes, too. The recipe says they can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, but Cory and I have kept in them in the fridge for up to three weeks.
Blurb photo book
In 2010, I made a book from Blurb with some of the recipes from my blog and sent them to family. Blurb has super easy-to-use software for creating your book, or if you have knowledge of InDesign you can upload your own design. Last year, I made a photo book full of Cory and I’s travels to Turkey, my dad’s visit to San Francisco, my in-law’s visit to San Francisco, and of course, photos of our newly adopted cat. Everyone loved the photo book and I intend on continuing the tradition this year. The deadline to receive a photo book before Christmas is December 13th, so I need to get started. Big things happened for us this year, you know, like getting married, quitting our jobs, moving across the country, and starting our own businesses. Hope no one minds that 80% of the photos will be of our cat.
If you make this now, it won’t be ready for Christmas, but it could still be gifted. I actually made this last year and started in early November to make sure the extract would be ready in time for Christmas. Making vanilla extract is so simple – just pour some vodka or bourbon in a bottle, add a few split vanilla beans and let them steep for about 6-8 weeks before using. I actually kept two bottles for myself and I’m never buying store bought vanilla extract again.
The homemade vanilla extract was not actually a great gift idea for my steak and potatoes dad. I should’ve known, but I thought he’d use it for hot chocolate (he did not). He loves to cook and likes the way I spice food, but doesn’t go out of his culinary comfort zone on his own. Infused olive oil will be a nice and easy way to give his meals a kick.
Okay, I’m not actually giving this as a gift to anyone… unless a gift to myself counts. I’ll be making these either on Christmas or a couple days before. Cory can have one or two if he wants, but they’re really for me. I’m a sucker for just about any dessert involving cream cheese. Cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting are basically my favorite thing ever. It’s what made my 27th birthday so special, after all.