Made with Love

Holiday gifts are extra special when you create them yourself

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson
Photograph by Kate Baldwin
Food styling by Christy Nordstrom

This holiday season, forget the flowers. Fling the fruitcake. Forgo the Godiva.

Instead, as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa approach, consider making one-of-a-kind food gifts. For both creator and recipient, homemade holiday gifts warm the heart and satisfy the soul.

They are the perfect solution for people who like to put on an apron, dust off the food processor, crank up the iPod and get cookin’. Giveable goodies rival the treats you see (and often covet) in specialty-food stores and online catalogs—and are packaged with a personal touch.

Homemade gifts provide a memorable way to get the kids or grandkids involved in fun, educational kitchen activities that may turn into holiday traditions. And small, easy-to-make items are good tokens for hostesses, hairdressers, co-workers and other acquaintances when a more extravagant store-bought gift seems like too much of a good thing.
No run-of-the-mill shortbread cookies or banana-nut loaves will you find among my giveable goodies. Chocolate-hazelnut butter rivals Nutella, the famous cocoa-hazelnut spread, originally from Italy, that is used as a sandwich spread or crepe filling in 75 countries worldwide. Candied pecans are great to eat out of hand or sprinkle on salads.

Homemade coffee liqueur serves as a perfect after-supper sipper, easy topping for vanilla ice cream, or warming addition to mugs of steamed milk. Old-fashioned pumpkin butter finds its perfect partner with fluffy buttermilk biscuits or the Thanksgiving turkey, and the addition of three forms of ginger (fresh, ground and candied) and two forms of lemon (zest and juice) raises the flavor to new heights. Homemade cranberry sauce spiked with dark rum and dried sour cherries is a tangy-sweet addition to any hostess’s holiday table. And an authoritative spice rub turns everyday chicken breasts into an international experience.

Executive pastry chef Jessica Campbell, of the Yarrow Bay Grill in Kirkland, is such a fan of giveable goodies that she’s taught a cooking class on the subject for the past two years. During the hands-on class, Campbell not only helped us prepare five food gifts but showed us inspiring ways to package our creations.

The chef scooped candied pecans into cellophane bags, which she tied with colorful ribbons and tagged. Jars of chocolate-hazelnut butter were decorated with die-cut holiday stickers and tied with sumptuous satin or velvet ribbons.

The act of giving homemade goodies shows family, friends and acquaintances you took the time and cared enough to prepare something with your own hands from your home kitchen. This year, why not say “Happy Holidays” to one and all in the most delectable, heartwarming way possible?

Contributing editor Braiden Rex-Johnson is the author of the Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook (Ten Speed Press).