We all know that feeling...a glance at the calendar tells us that Christmas is only a few days away. And it suddenly dawns on you that you are NOT quite prepared! Sure, you have the important gifts. You know, the ones for the children...your spouse...mom and dad...grandma. But what about the neighbor who waters the garden when you go on vacation every summer? Your book club group? Your monthly dinner group? The sibling or best friend who already has everything they could possibly need or want?
My father used to tell us that he didn't need any gifts. When we protested, he replied that if we really felt that we had to give him something for his birthday or for Christmas, it should be something he could consume so that it did not clutter up his simple mountain lifestyle. So we began to bring some of his edible favorites...red wine...Mayhaw jelly...Polish Christmas bread...homebaked cookies. At first, this seemed to be "not quite enough", but for my father, it was exactly enough.
Dad is gone now, but his spirit lives on. So in his memory, I've decided to carry on the tradition of simple gifts from the heart and from the home. Oh, my two grandsons will still have presents to open, as will my daughter and her husband, but the rest of my holiday gifts will be stress-LESS, easy to make, treats from my kitchen.
Holiday Trail Mix
It doesn't get much simpler than this! Combine the ingredients in a big bowl, mix it up, and you have a festive snack that can even be gluten free as long as you read labels carefully!
One 16-oz. jar of dry roasted peanuts with sea salt
One 14-oz. can of salted cashew halves and pieces
One 11-oz. bag EACH of M&Ms: regular, dark chocolate, holiday mint, white peppermint
One 6-oz. box or bag of toasted coconut strips (Kroger and Trader Joe carry these.)
Two cups of dried cranberries (I buy a huge bag because I use them for many things, so I just toss in a few cups.)
Holiday Homemade Mocha Mix (serves about 8)
I discovered this recipe in a coupon booklet from our local Kroger store. I made five batches to fill six Mason jars to give as gifts to my dinner group friends. Be sure to include the serving directions. Add a snack size baggie of mini marshmallows or a few soft peppermint sticks and a cute mug and you have a perfect little gift!
Mix together: 1/2 cup powdered milk
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Cocoa.)
1/4 cup instant coffee (I used Folger's decaf, but regular is fine, too!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli dark chocolate bits.)
To serve: Put 1/3 cup Mocha Mix in a mug.
Add 1 cup boiling water. Stir until the chocolate bits melt completely.
Garnish with mini marshmallows or a soft peppermint stick, if you like that.
This recipe takes a little more time, since baking is involved, but the results are worth it! My mother gave me the recipe many years ago and I have been making it ever since, but I have no idea where it originally came from. It is worth the time to go to Trader Joe's, if you have one nearby, to get the best walnut halves. Most grocery store bags will have a lot of bits and pieces, but the Trader Joe's walnut halves are as close to perfect as I've ever bought, with very few smaller bits.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Blend the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:
1 egg white (Whole eggs are best. If you are making several batches and don't want to have a lot of
leftover yolks, you can use liquid egg whites. However, cut the amount of water in half to keep the
consistency of the mixture less watery.)
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. water
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Add 3 heaping cups of walnut halves.
Prepare a large baking pan with sides of about 1 inch by lining it with non-stick foil. This will prevent you from having a very sticky pan to clean when the baking is finished! Spread the walnut mixture in the pan. Set the timer on the oven for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, stir the mixture to redistribute the liquid. Return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Repeat one more time, for a total baking time of 45 minutes.
While the walnuts are baking, prepare the cooling surface by spreading a large sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper on the counter top. When the walnuts are removed from the oven, spread them out on the parchment or waxed paper to cool. Once the walnuts are fully cooled, break them apart and store in a covered container in a cool, dry place. No need to refrigerate.
Stress-LESS Packaging Tips
These treats can be presented in so many containers! This year, I'm using tins, Mason jars, and jelly jars, but you could also use baskets, flower pots, a pretty bowl or platter, pasta jars, or food boxes from the local craft supply store. A large baggie with a colorful ribbon, placed in a pretty basket or bowl, makes a lovely presentation.
When it comes to colors, think beyond the traditional red and green. Try deep blue, silver, gold, or white. This year checks and plaids are prominent in the craft stores as well.
For ties, instead of ribbon consider twine, yarn, raffia, or colored string.
I like to have a theme for my packaging, and this year I've chosen to use neutrals mainly because I fell in love with the glittered cotton ball twigs in the craft store! With those "almost Christmas" coupons, my teacher discount card, and sales, I was able to purchase the twigs, snowflake ribbon and tissue, tins, jars, and the cute polka dotted gift bags all at 60-70% off at my local JoAnn Fabric and Crafts store.
Not a bad way to put together my Stress-LESS Christmas packages!
If you try any of my recipes, please let me know what your think either here or on my Facebook page!