Homemade holiday

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By Dani Testa – Sgueglia

How many people on your list is it difficult to buy for? How many times have you looked at your purchases and thought that they aren’t representative of the person you intend them for? Homemade gifts can be the answer – you can personalize them for each of your loved ones, add a certain fragrance they are fond of, use their favorite color, or appeal to their specific sweet tooth. Try a few of these ideas and then experiment with the packaging to elevate your homemade offerings into gifts that will add sparkle to your loved ones’ season.

Gifts to eat
• Homemade sweets like cookies and candies or savory treats like cheddar straws, crackers or scones make a lovely gift that can be customized to account for food preferences, allergies or sensitivities. • Infused vinegar is easy to make and, by using a decorative bottle, can be lovely to present – showing off the herbs, garlic or hot peppers that you used in the preparation. • Snack mixes, trail mix, and popcorn can be packaged and presented for the young and young at heart.

Cranberry Orange Caramel Corn
Courtesy of The Popcorn Board
Ingredients
10 cups popped popcorn
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup whole almonds
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, undiluted
1 teaspoon orange or vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking soda
Directions
• Preheat oven to 300˚F. Place popcorn, cranberries and almonds in a large bowl; set aside.
• In a medium saucepan heat butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and orange juice concentrate over medium heat until butter is melted. Bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in extract and baking soda (mixture will foam).
• Pour syrup mixture over popcorn mixture in bowl; stir to coat well. Spread evenly in a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, lined with foil and sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake 30 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. Stir caramel corn as it cools on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container.

Gifts to drink
• Fruit, tea, and coffee all are wonderful ingredients to infuse into vodka or other spirits for gifts. Search the web for quantities and amazing recipes to include with your gift.
• Homemade liquors are often easy to make and are a lovely gift for your hostess or to use as party favors for your holiday shindig.
• Hot cocoa mixes, cider mulling spices, and tea blends are cute packaged in mason jars. Make sure to include preparation instructions and garnishes like mini marshmallows, candy canes or cinnamon sticks. Complete your gift by giving a glass jar of cream top milk from a local dairy, some local sweet cider or a mug and tea infuser with it.

Lemon, lavender, peppermint herbal tea
Ingredients
1 part dried peppermint leaves
1 part dried lavender buds
1 part lemon peel
Directions
• Prepare lemon peel by peeling the zest from the lemon with a vegetable peeler. Arrange the peel on a cookie sheet and bake in a 200°F oven for 2 hours or until completely dehydrated. When completely dried, finely chop peel and add to peppermint and lavender. Store in an airtight container. • To enjoy, add one tablespoon of the blend to a tea infuser and pour boiling water over.

Gifts to love
• Necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other baubles are easy to string together and can be customized and gifted together for a lovely present.
• Purchase fabric paint or make your own using textile medium (ask at your local craft supply store) to stencil, sponge or paint directly onto dishtowels, tote bags, or aprons for a one of a kind gift.
• Check out your local craft store for a large selection of DIY kits to make soaps, scrubs or candles.

The art of packaging
Whatever gift you are wrapping, whether it was selected or made with love, can be elevated and personalized by the wrapping. Consider these tips and ideas from Rudy Grant and David Siders from Experience & Creative Design (510 Union Street, Schenectady) to add a little glitz, style, and personality to your holiday. experienceandcreativedesign.com.

Wrapping
Try using fabric – even a scarf, dish towel, or napkin can be used as wrapping (as a bonus – the wrapping is part of the gift too!)
Make your own – this is a great project for kids. Use Kraft paper or a large roll of plain paper to stamp, color, draw or splatter paint to add your creative touch to the wrapping. Take large bubbled bubble wrap, slit open each cell and insert candies like M&Ms or other colorful candies for pops of color and appeal to the child in all of us.
Newspaper
– Reuse your newsprint or comic pages to add some whimsy to your gift.

Bows, trim and baubles
• Add personality by making your own bows out of newspaper, sheet music, colorful ribbons, crepe paper or paper shred.
• Play with texture by using different materials including mesh, grosgrain or wired ribbons for different effects.
• Twine, string and jute cord all bring different charm to each package.
• Use bells, fresh or silk greens and flowers, ornaments, cinnamon sticks, spice or herb sachets or packaged candies to add the finishing touch to your gift.

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